Rescued by a white knight

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Chess has exasperated some of the brightest minds in the world, but primary schools are giving it a thoroughly modern makeover. Teachers across the UK are taking the unusual step of using the game to combat poor attainment and behaviour to great effect.

"Chess has made a significant impact on behaviour in school," says Matthew Kleiner-Mann, deputy head at Montem Primary in Islington, north London.

"We used to have quite a bit of trouble in the playground but the chess has definitely settled the kids down and helped their concentration."

Montem has a deprived catchment area. Half of its pupils are entitled to free school meals and 65 per cent speak English as a second language. When the chess club was introduced in 2003, more than half the children who joined were on the special needs register, with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

"They like the combative nature of chess," says Mr Kleiner-Mann. "Some healthy competition is good if it's rightly managed. They get a buzz from winning and they learn techniques to keep calm if they lose. A lot of very disaffected children would not be in school if it wasn't for chess."

Danny was one such pupil. Always in trouble, he found it hard to focus on his work and suffered from low self-esteem. However, he shone as a chess player and quickly became captain of the 40-strong chess club - a role that lent him status among his peers. Danny has since taught the game to his father, who now attends the school chess club and takes a more active interest in his son's education. Success stories like this are not isolated.

A recent report into Aberdeen's chess development project, which was piloted in seven primary schools over three years, described the game as a positive catalyst for change. "The project produced demonstrable results in I improved behaviour at school, improved learning, enhanced parental involvement and active citizenship," it states. "Chess play assists the learning of 'how to learn' and creates a desire to learn, alongside increased motivation and the will to use knowledge."

Such endorsements will only add to the popularity of chess in schools. The UK Chess Challenge, the largest chess tournament in the world, will see approximately 74,000 children play chess in school tournaments when the season starts in the spring term.

Only the best, however, will be calling "checkmate" at the auspicious national Terafinal in the summern

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