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Huge benefits for young chess players

January 12, 2005

reproduced with kind permission of Aberdeen City Council website

Chess development work in City primary schools has led to improved attendance at school and better behaviour in class, according to a report going before Councillors next week.

The report, by Community Learning and Development Manager Pete Hamilton, aims to update the Education and Leisure Committee on Aberdeen's Chess Development Project.

The programme was launched in 2001 and in its first year, chess development work was initiated in seven primary schools in the Northfield group - Muirfield, Westerton, Quarryhill, Holy Family, Bramble Brae, Middlefield and Smithfield schools. The project has since been extended.

Scottish Executive-funded research which was carried out to evaluate the project to date found that "anecdotal evidence indicated that the project produced demonstrable results in relation to improved behaviour at school, improved learning, enhanced parental involvement and active citizenship. The research report confirms this and points to chess as an important tool in improving attainment".

A personal code of conduct is central to chess-play, and according to the report to Committee, this benefited children who were experiencing learning difficulties or mood swings, or both.

"Chess-play assists the learning of 'how to learn' and creates a desire, alongside increased motivation and the will to use knowledge'. This initiative has made a significant difference to classroom life, family circumstances and community development."

The report states there is also "clear evidence of enhanced family learning", while the City's adult learning team has also made some adult literacy and numeracy input to the project.

Other key findings by the research team included:

· The chess-playing family became an educational resource. Children gained access to a chess set, computer and chess software, books and library membership.

· The development of intergenerational chess play between parent and child and grandparent and child generated a new period of quality time at home for adult-child relations.

· Children who played chess developed self-regulated learning through voluntary study and chess play practice with regard to problem solving.

The research team concluded that "substantial funding for chess development in Scotland's primary schools could improve literacy, numeracy and the confidence of pupils who require learning support".

Aberdeen City Council appointed a Chess Development Officer, based at Mastrick Community Centre, in 2001.

The initial aims of the project, which was funded through the New Opportunities Fund Out of School Hours Learning Activities programme (OOSHLA), were to:
· Establish after school chess clubs
· Develop teaching materials to encourage parents to become chess coaches
· Organise family chess evenings
· Organise tournaments and one to one coaching sessions
· Involve parents in the classroom, developing one to one chess for children with learning difficulties and behavioural problems and
· Develop a mentoring scheme.

The project was introduced as a small-scale pilot initiative, as it was originally assumed it was unlikely to take off as a way of engaging young people in learning outwith school hours.

But the report states: "In fact, it has proven to be highly popular and successful with clear outcomes for children, young people and their families. The work undertaken by the project was highlighted as effective practice during a recent HMI inspection in the area. The initiative has been successful in engaging with children who have experienced difficulty settling into traditional learning situations."

The Chess Development Project has been extended with the support of a further year of Big Lottery funding.

This funding will allow development in two further Associated Schools Groups in the South and Central areas of the city and has supported the formation of an Aberdeen Chess Academy in partnership with the University for Children and Communities.

In the Northfield and St Machar feeder schools, around 350 children got involved in chess through class teaching.

Primary four pupils in 10 schools went on to take part in tournaments at school, inter-school, regional and international levels.

At the end of the third year, 38 children had appeared in the Scottish list of graded players. Significant successes were also achieved by Aberdeen pupils at local and Scottish tournaments, particularly by girls.

The Scottish Executive research grant covered a case study of children in one P4 class that received chess coaching during 2003-2004, which was combined with a pre-test and post-test assessment of children's improvement in word recognition, reading, spelling, comprehension, arithmetic and social/behavioural adjustment.

The initial findings of the experimental study suggested that taken together, the findings for reading, spelling and comprehension support the research hypothesis that 'Chess makes a Difference'.

The research found: "The case study of chess coaching in one P4 class points to a process of community learning and development, demonstrating that a chess project facilitated in school, impacts at home and in the community.

"These findings provide substantial qualitative evidence of social, emotional and community development. A substantial number of chess playing family, school and community networks evolved over the period of study. These developments formed new social and community relationships between pupils and schools; pupils and teachers; teachers and parents; parents and children; parents and parents…

"Chess, like all educational initiatives, cannot be a substitute for social policy measures that tackle the material poverty of low income and a long working day for many parents - it can however contribute to children's personal growth and resilience in circumstances of poverty.

"If a primary source of social capital is the 'keeping of privilege' by the rich and powerful by means of extended family resources and the purchase of educational opportunity - then chess-play, as a form of cultural capital, can redress some of these imbalances of educational opportunity.

"The introduction of chess coaching to the primary school curriculum will have major implications for the teaching profession, continuous professional development initiatives, pupil support, parental involvement and the role of the classroom assistant.

"Substantial funding for chess development in Scotland's primary schools could improve literacy, numeracy and the confidence of pupils who require learning support…we advocate an innovative and creative contribution to Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence - a new specialist - the visiting chess coach," researchers concluded.

Councillors are being asked to note the positive evaluation of the city's Chess Development Project and the current funding arrangements.

The Big Lottery Fund granted a one-year extension of funds to continue the Chess Development project with primary schools in St Machar, Torry and Kincorth groups until July.

However, the Lottery funding period for the existing after-school clubs in Aberdeen North has expired, although City Council funding of £25,000 will also see the project continue in this area until July.

This funding will also contribute to costs that are not covered by the Big Lottery, such as transport and website development.

After July, it is likely that the University for Children and Communities will fund work in Torry under the umbrella of the 'Children's University', but funding to sustain the work in St Machar and Kincorth needs to be identified.

The report states there is a nine-month shortfall in funding for the financial year 2005/2006, so it is further recommended that Councillors instruct officers to report back on sources of funding to develop and maintain the project on a sustainable basis.

The Education and Leisure Committee meets at 2pm on Monday, January 17.

* The research study was funded by the Scottish Executive Education Department's Sponsored Research Programme in conjunction with Aberdeen City Council and the University of Aberdeen.

The study provides an in-depth account of the impact of the final year (2003-2004) of a three-year NOF programme of Out of School Hours activities which focused on the development of chess coaching for P4 pupils and chess after-school clubs.

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