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Teachers urged to enter schoolgirls into UK’s flagship cybersecurity contest

Sep 26, 20234 mins
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CyberFirst Girls aims to introduce girls to cybersecurity, increase diversity, and address the much-maligned skills shortage in the sector.

Teachers across the UK have been encouraged to enter teams of schoolgirls into this year's flagship cybersecurity contest CyberFirst Girls. The competition -- which aims to inspire more girls to consider a future in technology and cybersecurity -- launched this week with registrations now open.

The annual competition is run by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) with the goal of introducing girls aged 12 and 13 to cybersecurity, increasing diversity in the industry, and helping to address the much-maligned skills shortage in the sector.

The UK tech sector has seen the number of female workers dip between the first and second quarters of 2023, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). This is despite other figures showing that the industry has grown during the same period between January and March, and April and June this year.

Current figures show that women account for 26% of workers in the tech industry. In cybersecurity specifically, just 17% of the workforce are female, with only 14% of senior roles held by women, according to the cybersecurity skills in the UK labour market 2023 report from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Entrants will try cracking codes, decrypting messages, solving coding puzzles

The 2023-24 CyberFirst Girls Competition will see girls across the country try their hand at cracking codes, decrypting messages, and solving coding puzzles. Teams must be entered by teachers of any subject, from computer science to art.

"The CyberFirst Girls competition is great introduction to the world of cyber that's both fun and challenging, and it is a great chance for participants to pit their wits against local rivals," said Chris Ensor, NCSC deputy director for cyber growth.

Thousands of girls have already benefited from the competition with the cybersecurity industry offering a range of career opportunities, he added. "We have seen participants of earlier competitions secure themselves exciting roles in the sector -- which is a trend we want to see continue."

Teachers share experiences of CyberFirst Girls participation

Teachers who have previously taken part in the contest have encouraged their counterparts across the nation to enter teams for this year's competition, sharing their experiences of helping students to take part.

"CyberFirst has been the best thing ever for getting more girls to take computing [as a subject]. Our numbers have risen substantially both at GCSE and A Level," said Roger Carpenter from Tiffin Girls School. The puzzles that they solve in the competition are exactly what they like doing and the "stopping the bad guys" aspect really fires them up, he added.

Lewis Parfitt from Chepstow School said he has entered teams of students two years running, and both years they have loved it. "I love seeing them work together as a group with the online challenges in the first round. They start delegating roles and helping each other out. Real authentic teamwork starts to develop."

Students from Bedford Girls School always enjoy taking part, particularly working together and trying something new, said Kit Burtenshaw. "The concept of a competition is exciting, and we try to ramp up the excitement of our teams competing against each other. I love the buzz of the classroom at lunch when we let them drop in and out around food to work on things and hearing them explain how they solved something or got stuck in for a good hour on figuring it out."

The competition opens at noon on Monday November 20 and runs until Wednesday November 29, with winners announced on December 3. Winners from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and all English regions will then be invited to a celebratory gala dinner in February 2024.

UK Editor

Michael Hill is the UK editor of CSO Online. He has spent the past five-plus years covering various aspects of the cybersecurity industry, with particular interest in the ever-evolving role of the human-related elements of information security. A keen storyteller with a passion for the publishing process, he enjoys working creatively to produce media that has the biggest possible impact on the audience.

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