Chess makes a dramatic comeback in primary schools and improves pupils’ concentration

Chess is making a dramatic comeback in primary schools – thirty years after it all but disappeared completely from the state school scene. In the past two years, a total of 175 schools – including those serving some of  the most deprived areas of the country – have reintroduced the game to the curriculum. This is from the Independent…

Now the charity behind its revival, Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), is optimistic the take-up will spread to 1,000 state schools within the next three years.

Academics are agreed the game is a major stimulant for improving pupils’ concentration and believe it can also be used in other subject areas – such as maths – to improve skills.

They could not have put it better than ten-year-old Olivia Kenwright, as she took a break from playing the game during a timetabled lesson.  “It’s like the  brain thing she  said. “It’s a really good game. It’s really good for helping out with other subjects.”

Olivia is a pupil at Sacred Heart Catholic primary school in the heart of inner city Liverpool – one of the 175 to start playing the game again.

Davidson John, another ten-year who graduated to chess from being a keen footballer and now prefers it to the ball game,  agreed with her.  ”It can help you with sorting out problems.“

According to Callum Phillips, aged 11, it is a ”calm game“.  ”It is really, really peaceful,“ he said.”I play it with dad and grandads at home now.“

That, according to Malcolm  Pein, chief executive of CSC, is a breakthrough as today’s children hardly ever play board games with their parents.   ”We used to play monopoly, ludo – all sorts of games,“ he said, ”but today it’s just computer and video games.

“Chess fell out of favour very rapidly in state schools when teachers fell out with the Government in the 1980’s and cut back on out-of-hours activities.”

As a result it became restricted to just the independent sector and became dismissed by many as an activity purely for the middle-classes.

“If you go to a state school in the UK there’s a less than one on ten chance that they’ll do chess and even then it may not be an organised game,” he said.  “Yet it’s so easy to organise and costs so little in comparison with other activities.”

John Gorman, chess coach for Liverpool schools, added:  “It helps with developing children’s concentration skills and they’re doing calculations while they’re playing – like whether a rook is more important than a pawn and how important is a Queen.  They sometimes don’t realise they’re doing maths as they play.”

At Sacred Heart, a 180-pupil school in one of Liverpool’s most deprived areas, all children have either an hour or 45 minutes timetabled chess a week except for the very youngest in their first year of compulsory schooling.. There is also a chess club after school every Wednesday..

The school won a Liverpool-wide schools’  chess competition – something which headteacher Charles Daniels, a keen chess player himself, is very proud of.  “We’re only a small one-form entry school – we don’t win things like football and cricket competitions,” he said. “It’s something the children will remember.”

Next month a contingent from the school will travel down to London’s Olympia to watch the World Chess championships.

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