I’ve been reading, with much interest, Reclaiming the Curriculum, a collection of case studies of schools providing ‘specialist and creative teaching in Primary Schools’.
Each chapter features a different primary school (many, but not all in Oxfordshire) which has enhanced its curriculum by going beyond the traditional primary school subjects.
My attention was drawn to a chapter on Chess in the Curriculum, written by Ed Read, the head teacher of Cumnor CE Primary School, situated in a village just outside Oxford. The provides a paradigm of how to introduce chess in primary schools. All children in Yrs 3-6 (aged 7-11) have one lesson of chess a fortnight. The head teacher himself, a chess enthusiast, teaches the younger and less experienced children, while Andrew Varney, a professional chess tutor (who also contributes to the chapter), teaches the older and stronger players. There’s also an after-school club where the really keen players are prepared for serious competitive chess.
It’s clear that this model is very successful. The children enjoy learning and playing chess, and several children from the school have gone on to represent their county.
Let’s consider some of the reasons for its success:
- All children are taught chess, provision is made for social chess, and there’s a club for those children wanting to play competitively.
- The whole school is involved, from the head teacher downwards. Putting chess on the curriculum will be a lot less successful if the school isn’t really interested and the class teacher just sits there doing her marking rather than taking part in the lesson.
- They employ an excellent professional chess tutor to teach more advanced skills to the stronger children and prepare the top players for competitions.
In recent years primary schools here in the UK have been very much tied down to the National Curriculum, and to their children’s test results. These are now, quite rightly in my opinion, becoming less important, giving schools more time and opportunity to broaden the curriculum in a wide variety of imaginative ways.
Other chapters of this book, for instance, deal with art, dance, drama, music, gardening, languages, history and much else. How should schools decide which to choose? A further chapter in the book features St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Oxford, a school where 70% of the children are from ethnic minorities, goes some way towards answering this question. They are a chess school (Andrew Varney also teaches there) and have been very successful in competitions against other schools, but they have a wide range of other curriculum options as well.
The whole book is an inspiring read for anyone interested in primary years education, whether as a teacher or a parent. If you’re involved in primary years chess education, you should also read it – and pass the message on to schools in your area.