IT IS one of the oldest and most enduring board games.

Dating back more than 1,000 years, chess continues to challenge and intrigue players and now the benefits of this strategic game are being explored in education – and with great benefits according to the chess experts who are instrumental in introducing chess into the classroom.

Nick Mullan, an accredited coach with charity Chess in Schools whose mission is to highlight the game’s educational and social benefits, has played on and off for years after learning it during his school days.

He and his colleagues are now passing on the benefits of the game to youngsters through their work in schools in Bradford – a city renowned for its promotion of the mass participation game through the Chesstival event taking place in City Park on September 13.

Nick began working with pupils at Horton Park Primary during the summer. He currently has 12 children, ranging from eight to 10, in his weekly curriculum session and 10 in the after-school club.

And, according to Nick, the benefits are endless. He said: “It benefits children in an academic sense with things like problem solving.”

He says it can also help with subjects such as mathematics and English and promotes fair play. Research has shown that chess can develop critical thinking; logical reasoning; improve numeracy, concentration and spatial awareness.

Chess is universally inclusive, boasting half a billion players worldwide and crossing all barriers of class, gender, race, age, disability. The nature of the game has also embraced technology with millions of enthusiasts playing online.

The game is fun and easy to learn, it is inexpensive and can be played anytime anywhere. It also brings children together in an activity they can enjoy; promotes sportsmanship; imagination and creativity and teaches them success rewards hard work. It also educates youngsters about planning ahead, to understand the repercussions of their actions.

The Education Endowment Foundation, an independent grant-making charity ensuring children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents, is currently looking into the effectiveness of chess in schools.

The programme involves chess being taught within normal class time for one hour a week by accredited coaches. Following a 30-week curriculum, children are taught how to play the game and develop thinking skills through the use of chess problems.

“The general thrust is to get them playing a decent game within a year,” explains Nick.

“It is a very pure game is chess, it isn’t simple because you have got to have all the different moves but you don’t need a massive amount of equipment or facilities, you just need a chess board and pieces and off you go, once you know the rules.”

Nick and his colleagues are keen to pass on the benefits of the game to more schools in the city. “There are lots of primary schools in Bradford and, hopefully, if the word can be spread then schools can see that it is working and it really does.”

Sarah Dawson, headteacher at Horton Park Primary, explains: “We have got a lot of very bright children that we wanted to stretch in a different way so we looked at what was available.”

She says seeing the Chess in Schools website provided them with an option they were keen to explore. “We set it up and it seems to be going very well and the children are developing some very useful skills which are transferable to maths and they are skills which can be used across the curriculum.”

Tom Bright, from the Bradford Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says: “We are very concerned that the current climate of education is about results, results and nothing else. If anything young people are getting a narrower and narrower curriculum which is focused on English, maths, science and a few other favoured subjects, so anything like chess or extra curricular activities that enable every child to succeed in lots of different ways is a really good thing.”

Ralph Berry, executive member for children and young people services on Bradford Council, says the game appeals to many and has helped to boost the confidence of many young participants. He also applauds the inter-generational aspect of older players passing on their skills. “It is a great way of learning and developing tactical skills. It is absolutely brilliant, it is a good idea and I would encourage more schools to take it up,” says Coun Berry.

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