Innovative Practice - All the right moves

Teaching disadvantaged children to play chess can help boost their concentration and academic performance

Michael Shaw

The background

Projects to interest pupils in chess have been tried throughout the world. Research gleaned from schemes in Aberdeen, Bradford and New York in the US suggests that instruction in the game can significantly improve pupils' concentration levels, confidence, attendance and academic performance.

SHINE (Support and Help in Education), a charity that funds and develops educational programmes for underachieving 4- to 18-year-olds from disadvantaged areas, was interested in whether it could launch a similar project in the London area. It approached a chess organisation based in a church hall in the town of Coulsdon in the London borough of Croydon, which has been running training programmes at schools across South East England since 1995.

The organisation, CCF (which stands for both Creating Community Facilities and the Coulsdon Chess Fellowship), is one of the largest of its kind in England. Previously, however, it mostly provided its courses to young people at private schools and better-off faith schools, because the pupils' families could afford to pay up to #163;7 a lesson.

SHINE decided to fund a scheme that CCF would run in order to help less advantaged students develop a love of the game.

The approach

The Making Moves scheme involves one of three chess trainers and an assistant making weekly visits to primary schools to conduct one-hour clubs introducing children to the game.

The five schools chosen for the project are all in disadvantaged areas: four in Lewisham and one in Croydon.

The format of the sessions is flexible to suit the pupils' skills. However, a typical session begins with quiet, friendly games between the pupils before the chess trainer shows off some tactics on a demonstration board, such as moves for openings and middle games.

The trainers, who usually have experience playing against grandmasters, are supported by an assistant and a teacher from the school. All the visitors from CCF are fully trained in teaching chess and vetted.

SHINE has provided CCF with funding to run the clubs for three years, from 2010 to 2013, at a total cost of #163;52,000, and is evaluating the programme. Meanwhile, the participating pupils have taken part in inter-school competitions and have been working towards achieving accreditation from the English Chess Federation.

Tips from the scheme

Rachel Warner, senior coordinator of Making Moves, says:

"Knock on doors." Organisations like SHINE may be able to provide funding for your project.

"Keep it disciplined - chess is a quiet game, so pupils need to get used to playing quietly."

"Let the pupils teach themselves. The more experienced can teach the less experienced."

Evidence that it works?

Research on similar projects in other parts of the UK and elsewhere in the world has been positive. Ms Warner says that indications from the first year of Making Moves are very encouraging, with the schools reporting that the participating students are showing an improvement in concentration and maths skills. Further evaluation will be carried out over the next two years of the scheme.

THE PROJECT

Approach: Making Moves is a scheme to help primary children in disadvantaged areas by teaching them chess

Set up by: SHINE and Creating Community Facilities

Number of pupils taking part: Around 80

MORE THOUGHTS

If you have got your own idea to improve disadvantaged pupils' literacy or numeracy, teachers can get up to #163;15,000 for their projects by applying to Let Teachers SHINE. The new scheme, from SHINE and TES, aims to support up to 10 projects and help the most successful ones to expand nationally.

The deadline for applications is 3 June. Teachers can download application forms from www.shinetrust.org.uk.

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Michael Shaw

I'm the director of TES Pro and former deputy editor of the TES magazine. I joined the publication as a news reporter back in 2002, and have worked in a variety of journalistic roles including editing its comment and news pages. In 2013 I set up the app version of the magazine, TES Reader, and the free TES Jobs app https://bit.ly/TESJobsapp Michael Shaw

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