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London school wins national code breaking challenge

22 Jan 2013

Pupils from the City of London School have been revealed as the winners of the National Cipher Challenge, a code-breaking competition that attracted 6,268 schoolchildren to participate.

The challenge, launched in 725 schools across the country, was run by Southampton University in partnership with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), IBM and Trinity College.

The two-month competition required students to break codes of increasing complexity. Although 1,600 teams signed up to the challenge, only 30 manage to complete every task.

The City of London pupils cracked the final challenge in 44 hours 20 minutes and won the GCHQ prize of £1,000.

Raspberry Pi computers were given to 50 members of the top 17 teams.

A prize-giving ceremony will be held on 12 April at Bletchley Park, a historic site from the Second World War, which currently houses the National Codes Centre and the National Museum of Computing.

The National Cipher Challenge has occurred annually since 2001.

"Since we started, the interest in code breaking in UK schools has grown dramatically and we continue to be amazed at the increasing sophistication of the kids taking part, both in their ingenuity and technical skills," said organiser of the contest and Southampton University head of mathematics, Graham Niblo.

A GCHQ spokesman said he had been impressed by the hard work put in by so many entrants.

"The mathmatical and computational challenges in codebreaking and cryptography continue to intrigue and attract young people, and the skills that they use are in increasing demand in digital and high-tech industries," he added.

Meanwhile, in another move to boost coding uptake, a competition, run by EPIK, has been underway since November last year challenging school children in Kent to build Web or Android applications.

EPIK is an initiative supported by the Open University and the British Computer Society, designed to encourage young people to engage with computer programming.

Over 40 mentors from the IT industry will support the children in the development of applications.

The competition will be judged by five members of the IT industry, including a representative Sony technical IT director Mark Lintott and Open University head of IT industry engagement Kevin Streater.

On offer to the winners is an apprenticeship opportunity with ionCube Ltd, a software company in Canterbury. There is also a £1,000 cash prize fund.

EPIK's organisers say the competition is aimed at helping young people get IT experience so they have a better chance at entering the job market.

"We have a massive youth base in Kent but no jobs for them. Hoping through the competition we can give them something intellectual," said EPIC organiser Dorine Flies, in an interview with V3.

"If don't identify these youngsters on our doorsteps, we risk sending IT work abroad and leaving them without the opportunity to pursue a career in IT."

In addition to such these coding competitions, the Rewired State runs its Festival of Code in August, a national coding competition that attracts hundreds of school children aged eight to 18.

V3 is currently running a Make IT Better campaign, focused on improving ICT education in schools in order to fix the growing skills crisis facing the IT industry.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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