The power of chess

Written by: Jemima Waltho | Published:
Checkmate: The chess club at Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Stoke-on-Trent (images: supplied)

The Ormiston Academies Trust is investing in chess clubs at its schools. Jemima Waltho looks at how the project has developed

One of Ormiston Academies Trust’s (OAT) key objectives is to ensure that our pupils enjoy the advantages that many of their peers in more affluent areas enjoy.

Our schools are in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country – including post-industrial areas and coastal towns from Stoke-on-Trent to Grimsby, Lowestoft to the Isle of Wight.

That is why we established our Enrichment Charter, a promise to our pupils that we will provide them with the extra-curricular activities to broaden their horizons, develop their social and emotional competencies and give them opportunities they might not otherwise enjoy.

That means seeing an orchestra or a play at a leading venue, competing in debating clubs or taking part in the Brilliant Club, a university access programme that places university researchers in schools.

These are the kinds of activities that, alongside the strong grades we help them achieve, are so often the difference in pupils’ applications to leading universities.

Our latest initiative has seen Ormiston Trust, the parent body of OAT, the education charity and academy trust, provide funding to 15 schools to either establish brand new after-school chess clubs or expand existing ones, with up to £100 granted to pay for new equipment and resources.

This has allowed more than 100 young people at almost half of our schools to now access the broad and wide-reaching benefits that the game has to offer.

I am delighted that we are doing this – I am a fan of the game in its own right, but there is also so much evidence that chess benefits children and young people and can help improve their results.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) awarded a £689,000 grant to the charity Chess in Schools and Communities to test the impact of structured chess instruction in schools.

The trial found that the strategic thinking used in chess had a positive impact on the problem-solving skills and logic needed for subjects including maths. It also suggested that the intense concentration and focus required is a useful tool for pupils when faced with school assignments and daily tasks in lessons (EEF, 2018).

Malcolm Pein, chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, argues that chess also has the potential to boost the social and emotional capabilities of pupils. Along with enhancing creativity, chess is a universal and inclusive activity that can be played at all standards while encouraging competition and team-work.

Inspired by these findings, the idea for the project came about from the network’s leadership, including Ormiston Trust’s chief executive James Murray, himself a keen chess player. It has been developed by myself and Ormiston Trust’s grant manager Charlotte Wright.

The chess club project is part of OAT’s commitment to not only raise educational standards but inspire young people to develop talent and character through a wide range of activities. We hope that these new resources will further encourage pupils to use their curiosity and creativity to find new ways of achieving their potential.

As part of that commitment, a dedicated chess championship co-ordinator has been appointed to develop the programme. Karen Giller, an experienced middle leader and chess fanatic from Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Stoke-on-Trent has worked with the trust to co-ordinate inter-academy online competitions for each of the schools involved. She has also established cross-school web tournaments that have seen pupils from different schools across the trust play against each other.

Setting up a chess club in other schools does not necessarily require a chess expert, but someone with similar good organisational skill and the dedication and passion that will inspire all pupils involved.

As part of Karen’s work, pupils at 11 of our schools took part in the very first OAT inter-academy chess tournament earlier this year.

With pupils having been in training since September, three pupils from each of the schools faced their opponents in a virtual chess battle. After a closely-fought contest over 10 rounds, George Salter Academy in West Bromwich was crowned the champions after winning eight rounds, with one draw and one loss.

The next round of the competition will see the highest scoring individual player from each school play in the final to become the OAT student champion.

These competitions allow pupils from every school involved to feel an appreciated part of a family of schools, where invaluable skills and healthy competition is encouraged.

For any other schools who may be interested in setting up a chess club, this is a useful factor to consider. Whether it is between schools across an academy trust or local area, or simply between pupils within the same school, it is important to give pupils the opportunity to come together to demonstrate their new-found skills and nurture their confidence in a positive team environment.

Developing chess clubs is an effective way in which schools can promote the skills needed to develop pupils into well-rounded adults. If you are considering a chess club, it is important to invest in the necessary equipment and staff training, whether support comes from an academy trust or a charity like Chess in Schools and Communities.

By engaging pupils from across our network of schools, we want to ensure that the chess club project has a lasting impact and legacy by fostering lifelong interests and skills. 

  • Jemima Waltho is the enrichment manager at Ormiston Academies Trust.

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