Chess and Education Conference in London this weekend!

December 6, 2013 by
Filed under: Education Matters, Social Brain 

Earlier this year I played a small part in helping Chess in Schools and communities raise almost £700,000 from the Educational Endowment foundation for a randomised control trial on the impact of chess  on attainment in Maths and English (and a few other measures) in about 50 primary schools.  The scheme is being evaluated by the Institute of Education in London and represents a big breakthrough for chess, and potentially for educational research too.

Those who played chess when they were younger tend to have little doubt about its educational value, but as with almost any educational initiative, finding hard evidence for that is difficult. There is a huge range of anecdotal, case study and qualitative evidence, but this study over 4 years will hopefully prove what we have long suspected.

At the current count, Chess in Schools and Communities now covers over 283 schools over 46 boroughs, mostly in deprived areas. They are hosting a conference this weekend at Kensington Olympia’s exhibition centre called Successes and Challenges: Improving School Chess Practice, Research and Strategy.  There are still places available for those who want to attend!

I had very much hoped to play a part in the conference, but now urgently have to finish our climate change report and conserve some ‘wild card’ energy to compete with some of the best players in the world later next week.

The challenge with any educational intervention is not to show that it helps, or how much, but to say what makes you think it helps more than other interventions. Chess has potential to make this case, due to its rich history and cultural resonance, affordability and helpful association with intelligence.

The most exacting challenge with any educational intervention is not to show that it helps, or how much, but to say what makes you think it helps more than other interventions. Chess has potential to make this case, due to its rich history and cultural resonance, affordability and helpful association with intelligence.  Many who otherwise struggle at school find they are good at chess, and realise that thinking and reasoning has a positive place in their lives.

My own ‘take’ on the value of chess in a nutshell, particularly in areas of educational disadvantage, is that it builds what Ron Ritchart calls ‘Intellectual Character‘ by providing a safe space with rules and feedback where you learn that you will inevitably make mistakes, but can still win. It also creates particularly valuable forms of what sociologists call ‘social capital’, in terms of community pooling of resources and time and inter-generational learning…but alas instead of developing that, I’m afraid I currently only have time to share a lightly edited version of a newspaper column I wrote on the subject two years ago! I hope some of you can make it to the conference.

Herald Chess Column for October 1st 2011:

Primary school feels like a long time ago, but it was instrumental to my chess development, as it is for most players who go on to become Grandmasters. Had it not been for supportive teachers  and a team of players I liked most of the time, including my brother, there is no way I would have fallen in love with the game in the way I did.

I went to Skene Square primary school in Aberdeen where chess was always played in the library with the red carpet, on the corner of the second floor.  We only tend to remember things that make an emotional imprint on our souls, and that room must have, because I remember little else of the inside of the school.

I went to Skene Square primary school in Aberdeen where chess was always played in the library with the red carpet, on the corner of the second floor.  We only tend to remember things that make an emotional imprint on our souls, and that room must have, because I remember little else of the inside of the school.

Chess in primary school meant challenge, delicious tension like no other, structured competition where physical strength didn’t matter, and a constant experience of learning and growing. It was also a time of learning away from home, going to nearby schools to represent my own, and sometimes crying when the result didn’t go my way.

I think of this now because the charity, Chess in Schools and Communities, is campaigning hard to get chess into primary schools, at least in England and Wales, but no doubt North of the border in time. The charity was set up by the chess world’s most revered and respected Scouser, Malcolm Pein, and already teaches chess to primary school children in seventy schools.

The breakthrough was an appearance on BBC breakfast television, which led to Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, tabling an Early Day Motion supporting the playing of chess in primary schools, which was co-signed by Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP for Leeds West:

“This House recognises the positive social and intellectual benefits for all children across the social spectrum of learning chess at a young age and the relatively low costs of teaching it in schools; notes that while chess currently receives no financial support from the Government, many European countries including Sweden and France financially support chess in schools; further notes that the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth would welcome UK support for the Chess in Schools project being developed by the ECU and the Kasparov Chess Foundation; welcomes the work of the UK-based charity Chess in Schools and Communities which teaches chess to primary school children from less affluent backgrounds; and calls on the Government to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to learn chess at primary school within existing resources.”


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