School chess clubs, inter-school competitions and links between schools and adult chess clubs are being encouraged in England and Wales because the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, believes children who play chess have a head start in developing academic skills.
The Scottish Executive has not given such clear signals but similar expectations are implied by the Education Department's conditions of grant funding to Chess Scotland, the national body which promotes junior chess and chess in schools.
North Ayrshire's head of educational services, Lesley Owens, is as convinced as Mr Clarke about the educational benefits of chess and has been the driving force behind a continuing professional development chess programme devised by Chess Scotland.
The first series of 10 weekly after-school workshops to develop teachers'
understanding of the game, to help them teach it and organise school clubs, was held last session in Irvine. The programme was fully subscribed, with 19 beginners and six more experienced players from 17 schools.
A course of four weekly workshops ran this session on Arran and a follow-up event built on teachers' progress.
Each of the schools represented on the programme has received a chess club starter pack including six chess sets, a clock, 100 score sheets and a book on tactics.
Ten chess clubs have been set up as a result of the initiative and a tournament will be held on June 17.
The principal objectives of the CPD programme are to give teachers an opportunity to learn how to play chess or improve their techniques, to explore the wider educational benefits of the game and to examine methods and practical implications of running school chess clubs.
In Irvine, the first objective plus a summarised history of chess were delivered in five workshops led by two schoolteachers, both strong chess players and active organisers in school and junior chess. Two non-teachers with extensive experience in organising chess clubs and competitions for children assisted.
This part of the programme was based on a beginners' course produced by Chess Scotland, and copied in paper and CD-Rom formats for the participants. However, the sessions also catered for the more experienced players.
The course pack contains a Chess Scotland booklet on how to organise a school chess club, which provided a basis for three workshops. One of these took place at Glebe Primary in Irvine. Another was led by David Leslie, manager of the Aberdeen primary schools chess project, who has developed a range of support materials for teaching chess.
The educational benefits of chess were explored in discussions throughout the course and particularly highlighted in an address by Brian Boyd, reader in education at Strathclyde University.
The final workshop took the form of a chess display by Scottish international chess master John Shaw at North Ayrshire's council chambers, in which he took on all the course participants.
The challenge now is to quantify the impact on pupils' learning and behaviour. An independent evaluation by education consultant Ian Barr should help to plan the next steps.
Craig Pritchett is schools development officer for Chess Scotland