Category Archives: Teaching

The Effects of Chess Instruction

Three of the people who have been involved with the London Chess Conference since the beginning have written a paper summarising the state of research into the effects of chess instruction.  Giovanni Sala, John Foley and Fernand Gobet have summarised the state of the art and theoretical challenges. The paper, which is an opinion piece in the the online journal Frontiers of Psychology, places the recent EEF study in a broader context. The EEF study was a large study in England conducted by the Institute of Education and funded by the Educational Endowment Foundation. The study found no long term effect of chess on academic performance. This study finding was regarded as disappointing by many in the chess community. However on closer inspection it turns out that the study had some serious weaknesses.

A major problem is the use of public examination results to indicate whether any intervention has an impact. The trouble arises because mathematics exam results in primary school in England appear to have been getting better and better over the last two decades. This may be because children are getting smarter or it may be for other reasons to do with school league tables and teaching to the test.


In the upper diagram we see the latest results for KS2 mathematics (children aged around 11). Rather than the expected Normal distribution, we find what can only be described as a Half-Normal distribution.  Half the children have scored 75% or more. This is an extraordinary result because our traditional experience with children is that some are good at maths but most struggle. The skewed shape of the exam results deserves some explanation.

The lower diagram shows how the shape of the exam results distribution has shifted over the past two decades. What we are witnessing is the accumulation of effects of educational policies which produce good results irrespective of the underlying differences in personal ability of the children. Finally, in 2015, we see that the shape has shifted so far to the right (called negative skew) that the results in maths cannot be regarded as very helpful in representing the underlying reality.

The technical term for this artefact is the “Ceiling Effect”. If examinations produce an artificial limitation on the distribution of results then we cannot distinguish those children who might have done much better.  If most children are doing great, then how can an educational intervention such as chess make any noticeable difference? More generally how can any educational intervention be detected?  This is a wider issue for the mathematics education research community to resolve.





How time flies! The Didactics of Chess are well behind us, if still fresher in our memories than the previous three editions.

Beginnings were modest. The first London Chess Conference, back in 2013, could fit in one of the commentary rooms at the London Chess Classic. With a grand total of 15 speakers (distinguished though they were), the gathering had a decidedly cosy ambience. “Plenary workshop” was not a contradiction in terms. By the first afternoon, everyone had met everyone else. Forget cursory introductions: one would have had a long, stimulating conversation with every other delegate over the course of the weekend. Sessions ran consecutively, aministrative work was minimal, and the networking gathering was an affair so quiet and serene that many would entertain ideas of a quick game of chess. Those were simpler times.

Fast forward three years and we all found ourselves at an eight-room conference centre to discuss teaching chess with 150 delegates working in 25 countries of the world. The 4th London Chess Conference was by far the largest and most international ever gathering of educators, researchers, schoolteachers, coaches, organisers, civil servants and non-profit executives interested in how chess can be used as a force for driving educational attainment. Disappointment was universally voiced at having to choose between concurrent sessions, all equally excellent. But there was no alternative: who would have time to attend a fortnight-long conference? That is what it would have taken to run all talks, workshops, seminars, debates and panels consecutively.

The diversity of topics was staggering and the quality of sessions universally excellent. As has become a tradition, a competition was also held: this time for the best chess exercise involving collaborative problem solving. In the end, the judging panel could not decide between two very different entries, and awarded a shared first prize.

As is unavoidably the case with an event at such scale, there were organisational challenges, but we hope that they remained hidden behind the scenes. At the end of the day, it is not our work as organisers that made the Conference what it was, but the expertise of over a hundred unbelievably clever and dedicated delegates along with your love of chess, passion for education, and selfless enthusiasm for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Our job was gathering all of you together in one building; if we could do that, the event was guaranteed to be a success. We hope that everyone left London feeling as inspired as we certainly did.

From all of the organisers to all the attendees, thank you for making the 4th London Chess Conference so unforgettable.


Chess exercise design competition

For the third year in a row, we will be running a competition during the Conference. In 2014, the subject was designing a game played on a chessboard. The competition was won by Tatyana Ogneva with her game called “Football chess”; Tatyana took home the £500 prize. Last year, we held a Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp together with a competition for the best social chess project, judged by experienced executives. Luis Blasco, who uses chess to work with children suffering from ADHD, earned £500 for his enterprise “Ajedrez y TDAH”.

We are delighted that this year’s Conference will also feature a competition, and thanks to sponsorship from the European Chess Union the prize fund has been increased to 1,000. The task this year is to come up with the best original classroom chess exercise. There is only one rule: the exercise must involve collaborative problem solving.

Check out the competition page for details — and start creating, just don’t miss the deadline!


Inspiring teachers to introduce chess

SeanMarshSunderlandSean Marsh runs chess projects in Teesside in the north east of England bringing many children into chess. He reflects on the factors which inspire teachers to offer chess.

1) Concentration. To play chess well – or to solve chess problems – children must learn how to improve their concentration and to remain focused and ‘‘on task’’ throughout a full game. It is very noticeable how games between the children start to last longer as they progress through their weekly lessons. Generally speaking, children have a strong desire to win when they play games and they quickly understand how paying attention during the lesson input leads to improved results over-the-board.

2) Discipline. It is not always easy to maintain discipline during a game of chess, in which mistakes – large and small – will occur on a regular basis. Yet self-discipline is an important characteristic if one seeks success. Through chess, children learn to live with the responsibilities of their actions. One bad move can undo a lot of hard work, but children learn how to deal with disappointments and – even more importantly – how to recover and come back stronger next time. 

3) Good sportsmanship. Fortunately, chess retains a certain degree of etiquette missing from various sports and games with a higher profile. Children are encouraged to shake hands before and after each game, regardless of result. Bad sportsmanship can lead to reduced opportunities (losing a place on the school team, for example) as children must, at all times, remain perfect ambassadors for their school.

4) Impact on Literacy and Numeracy. Chess in Schools and Communities recently collaborated with the Education Endowment Foundation (‘EEF’) to assess the impact of regular chess. The fact that the EEF should feel inclined to conduct a serious study on the impact of chess lessons should provide ample indication of the growing status our of our curriculum. Chess is traditionally linked with mathematics but I strongly feel the impact on other academic areas is consistently underrated. An easy example would be to highlight the creative and imaginative skill required to visualise a desired position a few moves down the line; such skills are transferable to other academic pursuits, such as writing stories, for instance.

5) General Learning Skills. Chess lessons offer a perfect combination of the three key types of learning: auditory (listening to the tutor), visual (watching the action on the tutor’s demonstration board), and kinesthetic (working in the pupil workbooks and playing games).

6) Opportunities. Chess is an absolutely ideal game for breaking down boundaries. Time and again it comes as a great surprise to teachers when they find particular pupils excelling in our lessons and tournaments. With everyone starting from the very beginning, previous classroom ‘‘pecking orders’’ and the like are rendered superfluous. Additionally, children who do not excel at sports have the opportunity to represent their school for the first time, thus boosting their confidence and pride.

7) Fun. Apart from the academic side of things, anyone who witnesses our chess lessons will develop the distinct impression that the children are having a lot of fun! Believe me, when children are having fun yet remain fully engaged by the tutor, the scope for even more learning grows considerably…

Batsford Book of Chess CoverSean, author of a recent Batsford book From Beginner to Winner will be speaking about chess in the Teeside community at the conference.


The remarkable impact of chess and logic

Suppose you divided school children into two groups based upon academic abilities. The smart children are given extra language lessons; the not-so-smart group play chess. All the other classes are shared. Who does better when it comes to the academic results? A remarkable finding from Hungary is that the chess group eventually outperforms the bilingual group in their thinking skills.

The Pipacsvirág Elementary School in Telki, Hungary gave the smart children the privilege of a bilingual education in 2007. They were given extra English classes for 10 lessons per week. The search was on for an activity which would stretch the other group. It needed have an impact on educational and personal development without exceeding the school budget.

After some exploration of the options, the school decided to introduce a chess and logic programme. As is well known, children regard chess more as play than study and are generally willing to engage. However, this activity was not regarded as sufficiently educational. Hence, it was supplemented by a set of logic exercises which have been cleverly integrated into the chess exercises. The school has developed the classroom materials over the intervening years in conjunction with chess education experts and psychologists. Perhaps the key to the success of the programme is that it is taught by the regular teachers who know the children well.

When the chess and logic programme started in 2011, all the children in third grade were tested on logical thinking, creativity and motivation. The bilingual children scored much higher reflecting the basis for the grouping. Four years later, after the chess and logic programme had been implemented during each year, the same children were tested again on a wider range of attributes:

  • logical thinking
  • verbal skills
  • complex thinking in natural sciences
  • creativity
  • attention

The majority of the pupils in the chess and logic learning group performed above average in the tested areas. Furthermore, fewer pupils performed lower than the average compared to the bilingual classes. The school has concluded that, based upon this evidence, the teaching of chess has a very positive impact upon children’s primary school attainment.

This was not designed as a scientific study but shows how introducing chess into the curriculum can make an educational impact. This outcome  was completely unexpected. Chess had not been introduced for the Gifted and Talented children as it is in many schools – it was introduced for those children who needed development, who were having difficulties at school. It was never an experiment with the expectation that chess was going to reverse the categorisation of educational groupings.

Two children from that first class have gone on to outstanding performances this year. One pupil won the Hungarian national mathematics competition, the school having obtained first place in team competition and another pupil won the European junior rapid chess championship. Imagine if these had been the really smart children..

sarloseWe will  hear more about the chess and logic programme at the conference from Erzsébet Sarlós .


Call for Presentations

The London Chess and Education Conference wants to bring together the best chess in education experts and projects. Workshops with presentations from different countries have proven to be an efficient way to instill international exchange, cooperation and joint projects. We are inviting contributions on the following school chess related topics:

Chess and Maths
Early Years Chess
Inclusion and Integration in School Chess
Chess Interventions for Children with Special Needs
Training Education Professionals to Teach Chess
Chess Teachers´ Qualification Needs and Certification
Chess in Camps for School Students
International Exchanges in School Chess
Lobbying for School Chess

Please contact us if you are interested to present in any of these workshops or if you want us to consider an additional topic.

Digital Assisted Learning

Janos Pallagi profile picture
János Pallagi Developer of

The conference has a panel debate on digital assisted learning on Saturday afternoon: ‘Promises and Limitations of Digital School Chess’ which will be an opportunity to discuss a topic which is becoming increasingly important to the teaching community. Schools are gaining experience in how to integrate online curricula into the classroom but there are many issues to be resolved. Digital applications supplement the traditional methods and teachers value the structure and insights these can bring especially as the applications evolve through feedback from many users. Teachers feel more effective and better able address the diverse range of abilities and interests of their children. Schools are exploring which systems to use and the best way to introduce them. On the panel are János Pallagi, who developed a chess learning system (that he will present on Sunday morning), Mads Jacobsen who heads the Danish Scholastic Chess Association, and Melissa Remus Elliot, the Headteacher of Heathside Preparatory School in London who strongly promotes chess for educational purposes.

An example from LeaningChess.Net
An example from LearningChess.Net

János Pallagi´s LearningChess system arose from a project at Pipacsvirag Secondary School outside Budapest. János Pellagi, an IT specialist, worked with Erzsébet Sarlós, the school Director, on a Chess and Logic Curriculum which breaks new ground. The accompanying software was further transformed into a chess learning application system. This has been translated into English and made free for schools (see video). Already, a couple of thousand children are using it worldwide. The system has evolved so that pupils can track their own development and teachers can monitor the progress of their pupils and their strengths and weaknesses. The evidence suggests that tools such as this can improve attainment in chess, logic and mathematics.

Classroom Chess and Mathematics

Chess is evolving – its purpose has moved towards the needs of schools. Whilst playing chess competitively remains an important motivating factor for many children, there is so much more that can be done. Chesss may be regarded not as one game but as a resource for all sorts of logical and mathematical mini-games, game variants and puzzles.
The rapid rise of classroom chess has been achieved by teaching the game from the simplest beginnings. By working with children on the basic components of the game, literally one piece at a time, they grow in confidence and enthusiasm. Rather than throwing children in at the deep end, modern educational methods have been used to deconstruct the game into digestible components. Continue reading Classroom Chess and Mathematics

John Foley is Sixty Today

John Foley pictureThe co-director of our conference and frequent author of this website is celebrating his sixtieth birthday this Tuesday. Of Irish origin, he studied in Oxford, Lancaster and London. He is also a qualified barrister. Apart from practicing law he worked in highly qualified positions in the film and media industries. Full of ideas, he has always a fascinating project on his hand.

A couple of years ago John saw opportunity and demand for better mathematics education at the time Chess in Schools and Communities was set up. It was a match at the right moment. The charity started to work with John and appointed him Director of Training and Education. John has since trained a thousand of teachers and chess tutors in England, Wales and Ireland, and has written teaching manuals and children workbooks. Always up for something new, this summer he co-organized an international chess summer camp in Riga. Continue reading John Foley is Sixty Today

Thousands of Mexicans Trained to Teach Chess

mexico lecturersSchool chess experts and scientists from all over Latin America and Spain, as pictured left, are involved in a unique training project. 2200 teachers and chess teachers attended its recent launch in Mexico-City. The lectures took place in different venues at the world´s biggest university UNAM, the Teatro Hidalgo, the Palacio de Medicina and the EXPO Reforma congress centre. They are now followed up by an online-course for chess instruction, which is expected to reach 3000 participants with about three quarters of them school teachers. More lectures and in-presence-trainings are planned for April 2015 all over Mexico.

The ambitious project is the brainchild of Hiquingari Carranza. Well-known for the huge chess festivals he has been running since many years, he is now also the President of Kasparov Chess Foundation Iberoamerica. Many of the lecturers know each other from a series of chess and education meetings in Buitrago near Madrid, that have been directed by Leontxo Garcia. Leontxo is joining our conference as a liaison to the active and creative Spanish-speaking scholastic chess community.