My chess teaching colleague Andrew Varney (you might have read about him here) kindly invited me to spend an afternoon and evening in Oxford, shadowing him at the two primary schools discussed in the book, followed by a boarding prep school and a coaching session for the county junior squad.
It was great to visit schools where chess is really valued, and is seeing as being an integral part of school life rather than just a game played by a few children in a distant classroom after everyone else has gone home.
To be fair, there are schools in my area which take a similar approach: I’ve been involved with them in the past. But too many schools don’t value chess at all. They might run a club to keep the parents happy, or they might not even want to do that. At least one of my colleagues spends much of his time on public transport lugging a heavy suitcase full of chess sets round schools across London. If they can afford to pay for a chess teacher, surely they could also afford to buy a few sets.
I now have a lot of ideas about promoting chess in the schools with which I’m currently involved. I’m throwing out suggestions and asking both teachers and pupils how we can get more children interested in chess.
Here in my affluent corner of London, not encouraging chess shouldn’t be an option for primary schools. Having a club which attracts children who can play and children who can’t play, children who want to play serious chess and children who want to play social chess, children who are enthusiastic players and, on occasion, children who are not interested at all.
We have to start by promoting a positive image of chess, for its social as well as its cognitive benefits, and, most of all, as an amazing game which will provide some children with a lifelong interest.