Girls from Nicola Sturgeon’s former school named Scotland’s champion codebreakers

S2 girls from Greenwood Academy with Kate Forbes, Minister for Public Finance & Digital Economy

Girls from Nicola Sturgeon’s former school have been named Scotland’s ‘champion codebreakers’ after winning a government cyber competition.

S2 pupils from Greenwood Academy in Irvine came first among nine Scottish schools battling it out for the Scottish honours of the CyberFirst Girls Competition.

The final, held in Glasgow, was one of 18 simultaneous events taking place around the UK last weekend. As a result, the schoolgirls, who received an endorsement and retweet on Twitter from the First Minister, will go to the grand final of the National Cyber Security Centre’s competition in Wales next month.

The First Minister said: “Congratulations to my old school @Greenwood_Acad on winning the Girls #CyberFirst competition.”

Kate Forbes, Minister for Public Finance & Digital Economy, who attended the event, also took to the social media platform to congratulate the girls on the win.

She said: “Amazing effort by S2 girls team at @Greenwood_Acad for winning the Girls #CyberFirst competition today! Inspirational to see a room full of young women demonstrate their cyber skills – watch out, world!”

Girls aged 12 and 13 from the top nine qualifying schools took to their laptops to solve a series of online codebreaking challenges set by industry and the NCSC during the Scottish final. The Greenwood Academy girls beat off competition from some of Scotland’s top-rated state and private schools, including Jordanhill School in Glasgow and George Watson’s College in Edinburgh.

It is the first time a Scotland-only contest has been held thanks to the competition’s new format, which will see local contests taking place simultaneously throughout the UK. 

Almost 12,000 girls have taken part in this year’s competition and the top 10 teams from the contests around the UK – including the Scottish champions – will face off in a Grand Final in Wales in March.  

The CyberFirst Girls Competition was launched four years ago by the NCSC – a part of GCHQ – with the aim of boosting interest in cyber security among females, who are currently under-represented in the industry.  

In previous years an opening online round has been followed by a national final, but this year a round of finals across the Home Nations and English regions has been introduced allowing schools to compete to become local champions and earn a place in the grand final. 

The contests began at 11am at 18 venues across the UK, with Scotland’s event being hosted at the Glasgow headquarters of Morgan Stanley. Teams of up to four girls took on the challenges.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Skills and Growth, said: “It’s great to see girls from all corners of the UK putting their computing and cyber security skills to the test, and I wish them all the best of luck in this new round of the competition. 

“Whether they progress to the final or not, hopefully many of the girls will be inspired to find out more about cyber security and pursue their interest in this exciting field.”

Katherine Wetmur, International Chief Information Officer, Morgan Stanley, continued: “We are delighted to host the Scotland regional semi-final of the CyberFirst Girl’s Competition. Female talent is underrepresented in the technology industry, and Morgan Stanley is proud to partner with the NCSC to inspire the next generation of female talent and develop an inclusive industry where anyone can maximize their potential. 

“Morgan Stanley’s strength is its people, and attracting, retaining and developing diverse talent is a key strategic priority for us.”

The new country and English regional format of the CyberFirst Girls Competition is designed to help the NCSC unearth talent and spark interest in cyber among girls from even more parts of the country than previously.

The competition was launched by the NCSC in 2017, and tests skills on topics ranging from logic and cryptography to networking and online safety.  

In the first four years of the competition 36,000 girls have taken part, and of last year’s entrants 98% said they would like to learn more about cyber security.  

The competition is open to girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland and Year 9 in Northern Ireland. The first winners were Lancaster Girls Grammar School in 2017, followed by The Piggott School, Berkshire, in 2018 and the Royal Masonic School for Girls, Hertfordshire last year. 

Three-times finalists The Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston-upon-Thames, South West London, who last month spoke to NATO and world leaders at a Downing Street reception about the competition. In a subsequent blog, the girls described the event as a “privilege” and a “great experience”. 

For girls looking to pursue their interest in cyber, the NCSC is offering a free CyberFirst Girls Competition Development Day – bookings will be available from 10th Feb via www.ncsc.gov.uk/new-talent

Full list of schools who took part in first Scottish final of the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst Girls Competition:

Douglas Academy
George Watson’s College
Girvan Academy
Greenwood Academy
Hyndland Secondary School
Jordanhill School
Perth High School
St Margaret’s School for Girls Aberdeen
The Mary Erskine School