Monday 2 November 2015

The London Chess Conference 2015

The London Chess Conference takes place at the Hilton Olympia, 5-6 December 2015. It is part of the 7th London Chess Classic festival of events.

I was asked to contribute a set of notes on Key Points to Inspire Teachers to Introduce Chess into Schools, which can be found both here and on the main conference site.

1) Concentration. To play chess well - or to solve chess problems - children must learn how to improve their concentration and to remain focused and ‘‘on task’’ throughout a full game. It is very noticeable how games between the children start to last longer as they progress through their weekly lessons. Generally speaking, children have a strong desire to win when they play games and they quickly understand how paying attention during the lesson input leads to improved results over-the-board.

2) Discipline. It is not always easy to maintain discipline during a game of chess, in which mistakes - large and small - will occur on a regular basis. Yet self-discipline is an important characteristic if one seeks success. Through chess, children learn to live with the responsibilities of their actions. One bad move can undo a lot of hard work, but children learn how to deal with disappointments and - even more importantly - how to recover and come back stronger next time.

3) Good sportsmanship. Fortunately, chess retains a certain degree of etiquette missing from various sports and games with a higher profile. Children are encouraged to shake hands before and after each game, regardless of result. Bad sportsmanship can lead to reduced opportunities (losing a place on the school team, for example) as children must, at all times, remain perfect ambassadors for their school.

4) Impact on Literacy and Numeracy. Chess in Schools and Communities recently collaborated with the Education Endowment Foundation (‘EEF’) to assess the impact of regular chess (more information here: The fact that the EEF should feel inclined to conduct a serious study on the impact of chess lessons should provide ample indication of the growing status our of our curriculum. Chess is traditionally linked with mathematics but I strongly feel the impact on other academic areas is consistently underrated. An easy example would be to highlight the creative and imaginative skill required to visualise a desired position a few moves down the line; such skills are transferable to other academic pursuits, such as writing stories, for instance.

5) General Learning Skills. Chess lessons offer a perfect combination of the three key types of learning: auditory (listening to the tutor), visual (watching the action on the tutor’s demonstration board), and kinesthetic (working in the pupil workbooks and playing games).

6) Opportunities. Chess is an absolutely ideal game for breaking down boundaries. Time and again it comes as a great surprise to teachers when they find particular pupils excelling in our lessons and tournaments. With everyone starting from the very beginning, previous classroom ‘‘pecking orders’’ and the like are rendered superfluous. Additionally, children who do not excel at sports have the opportunity to represent their school for the first time, thus boosting their confidence and pride.

7) Fun. Apart from the academic side of things, anyone who witnesses our chess lessons will develop the distinct impression that the children are having a lot of fun! Believe me, when children are having fun yet remain fully engaged by the tutor, the scope for even more learning grows considerably…

Benefits of Teaching Chess in Schools

Some of the benefits of teaching children to play and study chess manifest themselves away from the classroom. An unexpected aspect of our lessons became apparent when children started to report back they were teaching their parents how to play. Grandparents already know, but there is a ‘lost’ generation who were never given the opportunity to play chess at school. Having children teach older people how to do something makes a wonderful story and there can no doubt that ‘‘getting the grandparents’ chess set out of the loft’’ is, in its own small way, bringing families just that little bit closer together. 

Incidentally, I know of a signifiant number of cases where pupils who would normally be off school for trivial reasons have made a determined effort to battle through minor colds and other sundry ailments to make it into school on the day of their chess lessons.

On the subject of inclusion, I once had a pupil at Pennyman Primary Academy who was confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, and who could communicate only with one finger and one eyebrow. He studied and played chess with the rest of his class every week for a year.

Our annual Teesside championship - open to all of players aged 11 and under - attracted a record entry of 120 children earlier this year. This was despite lots of Saturday-morning competition from a host of other activities (football, dancing etc). In our most recent tournament, a young girl missed her twin brother’s birthday party to play chess, safe in the knowledge that her own party was on the next day!

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