There is so much to say about Ofsted right now that this blog may just be my starter. I am increasingly convinced that my idea for our education system to take a gap year from inspection, academisation, and new policies is worth considering for 2015. Before that happens (as if?), time to deal with the changing current realities of school inspections.
Bruised by various mutterings from think tanks (to which the best response might be the old playground comeback ‘don’t give it unless you can take it’), Sir Michael Wilshaw last week wrote to all inspectors to reinforce the fact that ‘Ofsted is not prescriptive about the way that teaching is delivered and does not recommend a suite of preferred teaching styles.’
The letter is a helpful guide to what inspectors should no longer look for and comment on. However, it also gives examples of “what could be said about teaching without infringing the professional judgement of teachers to decide the most appropriate style of teaching to get the best out of their students.”
Teacher bloggers Andrew Old and @cazzypot have both analysed all these examples in detail. Most seem uncontroversial, if a little vague (I’ve listed these at the bottom of this blog). But here are my thoughts from beyond the chalkface of those worthy of further analysis.
- Are low expectations resulting in worksheets being used rather than textbooks?
This assumes that worksheets lower expectations, and textbooks raise them. I could find plenty of textbooks to counter this view. Is there evidence to justify this opinion?
- Are children expected to take books home to do their homework and return them the following day?
Leaving aside the mixed evidence on the impact of homework, why is Ofsted stipulating that homework needs to be returned ‘the following day’?
- Do lessons start promptly?
What does ‘start’ mean? When I was teaching in primary schools, I abandoned the time-wasting tradition of morning registration, and simply expected pupils to come in and finish uncompleted work for 10 minutes. It is of course crucial that no time is wasted dealing with behaviour issues at the start of a lesson, and that one hour’s lesson is one hour’s learning. But there are many routes to this goal. Will Ofsted now take against the idea of more fluid ways to start lessons, or will “start” mean something more traditional?
- Is the structure of the lesson promoting good learning and are children given sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught?
This seems to be at odds with Ofsted’s new guidance to inspectors published in December, that “inspectors should not focus on lesson structure at the expense of its content or the wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school.” Practice and reinforcement clearly needs to happen during any unit of work, but why does every single lesson need to give children sufficient time to do this?
- Does the school have a robust professional development programme which is improving the quality of teaching by disseminating good practice across the school or college?
The hypothesis here is that robust professional development programmes are built upon ‘disseminating good practice across the school’. The evidence, brilliantly synthesised by the Teacher Development Trust, consistently counters this traditional ‘cascade model. Shouldn’t Ofsted judge the quality of a school’s CPD approach in terms of outcomes, rather than methods?
As the SSAT’s Bill Watkin argued in his blog, Ofsted’s position is that “the new orthodoxy at Ofsted is that there is no orthodoxy.” Reading this letter, it feels like one orthodoxy might just be replacing another. But let’s keep optimistic, and, regardless of our differing views about pedagogy, hold Ofsted to account on Sir Michael’s final plea:
“Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.”
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
Other examples in the letter:
- Are children focused and attentive because the teaching is stimulating?
- Is the pace of the lesson good because the teacher is proactive and dynamic in the classroom?
- Is homework regularly given?
- Is literacy a key component of lessons across the curriculum?
- Do teachers use display and technology to support teaching?
- Are the most able children provided with work which stretches them and allows them to fulfil their true potential?
- Does marking give a clear indication of what the children have to do to improve and are clear targets being set?
- Do teachers have sufficient expertise to be able to impart to students the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed?
- Are teaching assistants supporting teaching effectively or are they simply ‘floating about’?
When was the last time you read a good literary book? Or recommended one? Though a staple for some, reading a good novel increasingly feels like a luxury not all of us can afford in the midst of busy schedules and digital distraction. Additionally, in a time where literary novel sales are declining and libraries are closing, it’s clear that our appreciation for the literary masterpiece is waning. It also seems as if children are beginning to mirror our increasing disengagement with literature; according to the National Literary Trust, only 40% of children aged 8-16 read daily in 2005, a figure which dropped to 30% in 2011 and by a further 2% in 2012.
However, a study in Science journal connects reading literary fiction with Theory of Mind; the ability to emphasise, imagine and understand the mental states of others. As part of the study, one group were given excerpts of literary fiction, while other groups read popular fiction and non-fiction. When finished, participants were asked to take a test to assess and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. Interestingly, there were stark differences between those who had read literary fiction and those who had read non-fiction. Those who read the literary fiction excerpts exhibited increased levels of empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Participants who had read excerpts of popular fiction were also deemed less able to connect empathically.
The differences between literary fiction and popular fiction stir a series of old rivalries between ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ interpretations of literature, but I think what is most important is the potential for literature to enable a person to think and feel creatively. Good literature gives space and time for the reader to delve more creatively into the psyche of their protagonist and to explore human complexities and behaviours. But as we become increasingly embroiled within the world of social media, everyday communication is often whittled down to 140 characters and appreciation in the form of ‘likes’ and retweets has become a normalised endeavour. Our thoughts are increasingly becoming condensed and immediate for social media consumption as are our reactions. Though clearly beneficial in certain respects, the world of social media often provides a somewhat one dimensional approach to communication, often bereft of emotionally sensibilities.
Reading literature, it seems, is fast becoming the equivalent of ‘slow’ food – wholesome and most probably good for you but without the immediate gratification and universal appeal of faster alternatives. Tellingly, on speaking on Radio 4’s Front Row earlier this month, writer Ruth Rendell connects the belated literary success of John Williams’ novel Stoner, a novel in which a young farm man falls in love with literature, with our literary nostalgia and claims the novel reminds us of a love of literature that we as a society seem to be gradually forgetting. But in thinking more widely about this loss, we need to consider and examine the detrimental effects of the increasing absence of literature, particularly when considering its role in the development of empathy and emotional intellect.
In contemplating the RSA’s current discussions on ‘the power to create’, it’s clear that reading fiction is certainly not the only way to delve deeper into what creativity at the heart of RSA might look like (if only!). But it’s interesting and important to consider our collective levels of empathy and emotional intelligence when thinking about channels of power and creativity. And while recent debates are still at the forefront of the RSA psyche, maybe reading literature is not a bad start…
Despite no formal announcement of Tristram Hunt’s ‘licenced to teach’ idea, the concept has already been constructed and deconstructed by the edurati, with especially useful contributions from David Weston, our own Louise Bamfield, and Charlotte Leslie MP, who argues with the easy conviction of a backbencher that:
“Any relicencing scheme that is the brainchild of a politician and born out of Whitehall is doomed to fail, and become just another stick with which to beat a demoralised, worn-out workforce.”
Given that almost everyone who has commented on licencing has used the ‘devil in the detail’ cliché, I’ll say that the angel could be in the bigger picture. Although I blogged in this week’s New Statesman that our school system should in 2015 have a ‘gap year’ from any new policies, I still believe that the licencing idea deserves air, time and hopefully support from the wide range of people who could together guarantee success. Here are five thoughts that might help.
1) Licencing is an ineffective way to remove bad teachers
If my child is being taught by anybody who is not up to it, I want him or her given immediate support to improve, with rapid removal if this fails to happen. Waiting five or even seven years is too long, and may create a further disincentive to do the right thing at the right time. Putting teachers into Capability, and finally removing them, is difficult, and always will be, but brave, assertive school leaders are finding ways through, and recent chagnes to regulations have made the process easier. This may be one area where academies and chains have been more effective and ruthless than local authorities, often if not always with positive outcomes. Setting up licencing as the magic bullet to remove poor teachers is setting it up for failure.
2) Licencing could reduce teacher bureaucracy
Of course, the process to gain and regain a licence is just that, a process, so will therefore come with some bureaucratic burdens. However, any licence worth the paper its written on should be a licence to be trusted – that your professional judgement is valued, and professional autonomy revered. Armed with a licence, most teachers should be able to resist some of the more mindless soul-numbing paperwork that senior management teams, often falsely in the name of Ofsted, request of their teachers: The over-detailed lesson and termly planning documents; the written justification for every individual assessment decision; the word-hungry performance management papers. “Back off and trust me, my licence is up to date’ could be a useful bulwark against the creeping growth of petty paperwork demands.
3) A licencing system should be carefully created by a new Royal College of Teaching
Tristram Hunt has suggested that the College enforces and administers the licence. I think that the College needs to design and create the thing. This means that we would need to create a college in advance of the introduction of any licencing scheme. If this slows down progress, then that might be beneficial. Despite Hunt’s rush to announce the idea, any follow-through should be slow and cautious, understanding the impact on teacher retention and the teacher labour market.
I’ll declare a potential interest here in that, although the Prince’s Teaching Institute and others have done some fantastic development of the idea over the past few months, I think that RSA could be perfectly placed to make the College happen. We have a good history of incubating new ideas and institutions, are prepared to bash the heads that need bashing, and would also work to learn from the mistakes of the General Teaching Council of England. The GTCE was an example of New Labour policy implementation at its worst – a kind of half-hearted, ADHD-riven dirigisme which built the weakest of institutions. I am sure that the RSA could build an alliance that could do this better, and not just because we have a ‘Royal’ in our name too. Pitch over.
4) Licencing should be built around the concept of ‘clinical practice’
This builds usefully on the BERA/RSA Inquiry into teacher education and research. We launched our interim report this week. Here, we defined clinical practice in education as
“the need to bring together knowledge and evidence from different sources through a carefully sequenced programme which is deliberately designed to integrate teachers’ experiential learning at the ‘chalk face’ with research-based knowledge and insights from academic study and scholarship. Inspired by the medical model, the goal is to reﬁne particular skills and deepen practitioners’ knowledge and understanding, by integrating practical and academic (or research-based) knowledge, and to interrogate each in light of the other.”
This is more complex, nuanced and developmental than any crude aim to ensure that teachers’ practices more ‘evidence-based’. But the idea of clinical practice, also powerfully articulated by the US National Council for Accreditation in Education’s ‘ten design principles for clinically-based preparation’ could provide a powerful foundation from which to build a licencing scheme which would improve, engage and motivate teachers.
5) Licencing should offer teachers the ‘power to create’
I haven’t joined the fray of my colleagues’ blogs about creativity, although I love RSA’s confidence to have these discussions in the open. I’m not yet ready to give my view on RSA’s possible overall approach to creativity in education – my five years of leading Creative Partnerships has rendered me cautious, if far from speechless. However, there is a genuine linkage between the philosophy emerging from the non-ivory second floor of John Adam Street and the teacher licensing scheme. David Weston’s blog neatly sums up teacher effectiveness as a combination of “subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, behavioural knowledge and interpersonal skills”. This isn’t enough. Teachers need the motivation, skills, and sense of self-efficacy to develop their own pedagogies and practices that can lead to the best possible outcomes for their pupils. Of course, innovation should be built on evidence, and all teachers need to adopt and adapt existing successful practices as well as develop their own. Although only a few teachers may ever create genuinely new knowledge, ‘little C’ creativity, the ability to generate and develop ideas that are original to you, and valuable in your context, should be at the heart of any licence – not just a right but a duty for all teachers.
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
Tristram Hunt’s proposal for relicensing teachers every five or more years has sparked much debate, from initial rebukes to more considered engagement. One aspect of the proposal that deserves greater attention is the opportunity to give teachers more explicit encouragement to engage in more active enquiry and robust evaluation, whilst continuing to raise the quality and relevance of research.
Teachers only rarely receive the time, support, recognition and reward they need to develop research-related skills and deepen their research-based knowledge.
There are plenty of reasons to proceed with caution, not least because the appropriate body to develop and take forward such any licensing system – an autonomous, teacher-led professional body in the form of a new College of Teaching, Royal or otherwise – does not yet exist. (On this, there is still much to do to resolve the current sticking points and allow such a body to establish itself as a trusted, independent institution, free from government interference or political agenda. But these intricacies shouldn’t prevent other ideas from at least being explored in the meantime. The crucial point is that all parties must be willing to accept the autonomy of the College as and when it is established: in the future, politicians may continue to make proposals of this kind, but the power to decide what is developed and ultimately implemented must reside with the College in consultation with its members, not dictated by Ministers).
Furthermore, as David Weston usefully spells out, there are some key issues to resolve in developing such a scheme, most obviously around how assessment for licensing would actually take place, there being problems with relying on either peer observation or value added scores from pupil performance data as a method for assessing teacher quality, as both have been shown to be unreliable (though training in how to observe would at least improve the former, as well as exploring other options such as using in combination with pupil feedback etc.)
Nevertheless, the proposal for a re-licensing scheme touches on something hugely important, which it would be unfortunate and even damaging for the profession to miss. This is the chance to consider what is needed to motivate, equip and engage teachers in the use of evidence and enquiry from the beginning of their training and how to sustain that engagement and commitment throughout their professional career.
For any (re-)licensing scheme to be successful, it needs to start with the profession deciding for itself, at least in outline form, the professional skillset and body of knowledge that all teachers must be able to demonstrate at different stages of their career. General agreement on this would help make progress towards a second key goal: namely, how to transform the culture of professional learning within English schools, so that it became a normal and established part of teachers’ education and career development to draw on the latest research and evidence, extending their capacity to enquire into what is working and not working in their own schools and classrooms.
Now, teachers could say, with some justification, that they don’t need a system of licensing and relicensing to prompt them to update and refresh their skills and knowledge. Indeed, far from inspiring this type of positive developmental activity, a poorly developed scheme or one implemented in haste could have precisely the opposite effect, in terms of dampening their motivation, trampling over morale and incentivising shallow forms of box-ticking behaviour.
But we know from research and experience that teachers only rarely receive the time, support, recognition and reward they need to develop these research-related skills and deepen their research-based knowledge.
As the BERA-RSA interim report shows, the UK lacks a coherent and systematic approach to teacher education
The interim report of the BERA-RSA Inquiry, launched this week, compares the situation across the four nations of the UK with provision for teacher education and professional learning in some of the highest performing education systems world-wide. One of the striking conclusions is the extent to which those high performing systems promote a culture of evidence-based enquiry and robust evaluation of classroom practice. By contrast, the UK lacks a coherent and systematic approach to teacher education, which means that teachers are still not being equipped with the necessary skills for enquiry and evaluation. Read more
South West Fellows recently organised a debate in Plymouth focused on creativity in education, particularly in a time of austerity. It links into the plethora of blogs coming out of the RSA around creativity, lead by Adam Lent’s blog Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st Century?. The debate was organised by Fellows in partnership with Fotonow, who create new opportunities in photography and facilitate socially motivated projects exploring visual culture across the South West of England.
The turnout of about 50 Fellows and interested others, in the week before Christmas during a howling gale, showed what an important debate question this was, and many in the audience participated with questions and comments to make it a vibrant discussion event, based around taking ideas forward.
Plymouth has a diverse landscape of educational provision and was a perfect place to hold a debate, the Plymouth School of Creative Arts opened for primary intake in September 2013, its mission to be “a centre of excellence for learning, living well and the creative arts for children from all walks of life and the wider community they form”. The panel was made up of Andrew Brewerton (Principal, Plymouth College of Art), Steve Baker (Principal of Lipson Co-operative Academy), Dave Strudwick (Headteacher, Plymouth School of Creative Arts), Joe Hallgarten, (RSA’s Director of Education), Jonathan Clitheroe (Education consultant, Real Ideas Organisation), Steve Butts (Associate Dean Teaching and Learning, Plymouth University) who all responded to the debates question and then opened up for general discussion.
Some of the key points made by the panel are listed below, fuller transcript can be viewed here
- What kind of creativity depends on affluence? More important to think about sustainability.
- Should see austerity as an opportunity – austerity breeds innovation…makes people more creative
- Don’t talk enough about creativity, talk more about the challenges, creativity should always be considered as an approach to education
- There are advantages about having less in a time of austerity – amazing what the response can be to having less
- In times of austerity challenge is key to look at a different model of thinking, diversity and having better well-being
- If/when austerity hits it will be a good opportunity to focus on what only schools can do
- Biggest challenge to keep alive is how to manage creativity in this world
- Need creativity to break connections – students are taught to bring this together
Question from audience – when we use ‘tick box assessment’ how can we mark creativity? Would a minimalist music composition ever score high
— Eleanor Bernardes (@Nor_edu) December 12, 2013
One of my favourite comments was a quote on how creativity in education showed be viewed taken from Pina Bausch the German choreographer, who said I’m “not really interested in how my dancers move…I’m interested in what moves them”.
The debate ended after a couple of hours, and informal discussion carried on afterwards. The overarching question that seemed to come out of the debate is what how can we ensure creativity remains vitally important in education. We hope that we may be able to hold a day’s action workshop on this subject for the whole of the South West in 2014, if you are interested in being involved, please get in touch.
If you are interested in the RSA’s work in education, keep an eye on the blog site, the Learning, Cognition and Creativity page on the RSA’s website. Finally, you can support the RSA’s latest project on Pupil Design Awards on kickstarter where the team are seeking the crowds support to launch the pilot for an innovative design project for pupils of secondary school age.
Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter
I have been working at the RSA for six months and as my time here is coming to an end, I have recently taken to a. reflecting upon what I have learnt and how it can be used in a future role and b. panicking about finding a job. One thing that I have certainly learnt about myself and being an intern however is that I should at no point refer to myself as ‘just an intern.’ I’m sure that some internships require very little of interns, but this is not the case at the RSA (thankfully). We are definitely being paid for a reason. I have been given the opportunity to play an important role in a research project for the RSA Warwick partnership which involved conducting focus groups with pupils in the Academies, creating a questionnaire, and even speaking at the launch event (which was only slightly terrifying). I have also been given the opportunity to work on the Kickstarter project RSA Pupil Design Awards * which involved drafting the script and working with the Fellowship and Design teams. This definitely seems like the role of an employee to me, and I can honestly say that I’ve been made to feel like one throughout my time here.
Interning at the age of twenty seven is not for the faint hearted as there is nothing worse than feeling like you probably should have started your career when you were 21 years old. However, did I know that this was the area I would like to follow after graduating? No, I certainly did not. Did I feel prepared to stay in England after graduating? No again. I can honestly say that when choosing to apply for this internship within the education team at the RSA, I was passionate about working in this sector. Having completed a dissertation comparing the higher educational aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in both France and England, I wanted to feel as though I was part of a project which aimed to aid these pupils. I’m happy to say that I have achieved this and I will continue to follow the progress of many of these projects from afar.
I’m not sure what my next move will be, but rest assured that I will be using the skills I have developed throughout my time here. I will also never again refer to myself as merely an intern. Here’s hoping that future employers will appreciate this too…
*Please do check this project out and spread the word kck.st/pupildesign. We only have 7 more days to go!
Filed under: Adam Lent, Arts and Society, Education Matters
In Adam Lent’s recent blog ‘Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st century’ he outlines the broadest definition of creativity as being ‘an act that is unique to an individual’s own capacities or vision’.
Why is it then that you’ll frequently hear people recoil in trepidation asserting ‘oh, but I’m not creative’?
Is it fear that they’ll be asked to draw? Or worse still, sing? Is it that someone way back told them they were no good at something and it’s stuck? Is it an excuse to get out of doing something? You’re creative, you do it. Is it an underlying lack of confidence in themselves? Is it a lack of birth right or sense of status?
Lent goes on to explain that creativity is important for four reasons:
- It’s good for us
- It’s economically more important than ever
- It’s the only solution to long term austerity
- It is under threat.
Do read his blog for more on this, am oversimplifying here to provide context, with this in mind I’d like to add two different thoughts.
Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so. Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art? Who are these people? And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.
Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN! Don’t we all want to be more creative? Personally and professionally?
Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.
But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go.
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters
I would like to start this blog by wishing you all a very happy new year! 2014 is looking like an exciting year for the design team here at the RSA – it’s the 90th birthday of the brilliant RSA Student Design Awards. The RSA Student Design Awards is a global curriculum and annual competition that challenges students and recent graduates to think differently about design, through tackling briefs focused on real-world problems. We work closely with universities to help them implement the curriculum and support participants through workshops and mentoring. Winners are rewarded with cash prizes, paid industry placements and complementary RSA Fellowship to kick-start their careers.
We’re driven by our mission to enable, support and reward design that positively impacts the world, and we are looking to build on a hugely successful 90 years of working with students by launching a brand new project in 2014. The ARC Design team are teaming up with the Education team to pilot the Pupil Design Awards. We want to introduce a version of the RSA Student Design Awards to about sixty teenage pupils aged 14-19 in three RSA Academies. If the model is successful, we will expand this into a national competition for all schools in the UK.
Why now? Design Technology education is on the decline. In 2013’s A-Levels there was an 8.56% drop in those taking the subject from the previous year, and D&T has seen a steady decline in those taking the subject as a GCSE – from 5.6% in 2009 to just 4% last year. This has seen it fall from number 6 to number 9 in GCSE popularity tables. This needs to change. With the Design Council telling us that every £1 spent on design gives you over £20 in increased revenue, £4 increased profit and £5 in increased exports, and that the UK spends £33 billion on design every year, we can’t afford to let this subject slip at a young age.
Design and Technology was introduced to the curriculum in 1988 to “prepare pupils to meet the needs of the 21st Century; to stimulate originality, enterprise, practical capability in designing and making and the adaptability needed to cope with a rapidly changing society”. Now 14 years into said 21st Century, these words ring truer than ever. The Pupil Design Awards will not just teach the students to learn to ‘cope’ with a rapidly changing society, instead they will be given the chance to design how that new society will look. Challenges will look at topics around collaborative consumption (asking pupils to design a product or service that gets better or more useful the more people use it), how to design out waste and how to use design to bring generations together, thus helping to tackle isolation in the elderly.
We know that the RSA Student Design Awards is a successful model which makes a huge difference to how young designers think about and use their craft, and past winners have told us they think it would benefit younger pupils. 2012 winner Richard Watters commented “If I had done this award when I was younger, it would have inspired me to think about the world differently and how design can help society as a whole”.
We need your help to make the Pupil Design Awards happen. We are raising money using Kickstarter to fund the pilot project – the first ARC project to do so. We have some brilliant rewards up for grabs including framed prints of winning entries and being a named sponsor on one of the briefs. We have two weeks left on our campaign, and are passionate about making the Pupil Design Awards happen this year.
Happy New Year
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters, Fellowship
We are happy to announce that our project RSA Pupil Design Awards: Coming to a school near you? has now been launched on Kickstarter!
Following on from the success of the RSA Student Design Awards, we are hoping to trial the expansion of this scheme for 14-19 year old pupils, aiming to inspire them to apply their design skills to solving real life problems. The Pupil Design Awards will challenge pupils to think differently about design, through tackling briefs focused on real-world social, environmental and economic problems. The project will initially be run in three of the RSA Academies with the opportunity for further expansion at a national level if successful.
It has been particularly interesting to look at alternative ways of fundraising and what this may mean for the ways in which charities operate in the future. Crowdfunding has the advantage of allowing people to donate as much as they like, offering them the chance to receive various rewards pending on the amount donated. In thinking up our rewards for this project, it was necessary to think more clearly about our audience which has in turn assisted us in further developing the project. Our rewards include an invitation to the Pupil Design Awards ceremony if you pledge £50 or more and a signed A3 colour copy of one of the three winning pupils’ designs if you pledge £20 or more.
It is still the beginning so it is impossible to comment on our success as yet, though we have already raised £2, 300 of our £10,900 target in 5 days which is a great start. We’re grateful for all of the tweets and retweets and we’re hoping that this will continue during the next few weeks.
Please help spread the word and make the Pupil Design Awards happen! Donate here!
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.”