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NCSC expands schools programme to north-east England and Northern Ireland

Following an initial roll-out in Gloucestershire and Wales, the NCSC’s CyberFirst Schools programme is being extended to north-east England and Northern Ireland

Schools and colleges in north-east England and Northern Ireland have the chance to apply for the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst Schools certification for the first time, in an expansion of the initiative that recognises first-rate cyber security teaching and skills development.

This follows an initial roll-out in Gloucestershire – home to the Cheltenham headquarters of the NCSC’s parent, GCHQ – and Wales, which last week saw the UK’s first 13 CyberFirst Schools announced. Projects at the schools that impressed the judges included a competition to develop a gaming computer and a club that successfully launched a probe into low Earth orbit.

The programme has been designed to certify and promote institutions that share the NCSC’s commitment to filling the gap in cyber skills and tempting young people towards careers in the sector, which faces a huge talent shortfall.

In extending the initiative to Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and Northern Ireland, the NCSC said it wanted to “shine a spotlight” on the teaching and skills opportunities being offered in those regions.

“We’re excited to open up the CyberFirst Schools initiative to more schools across the UK,” said the NCSC’s deputy director for cyber growth, Chris Ensor. “It’s vital that the next generation of cyber experts is diverse and talented, and CyberFirst Schools demonstrates our commitment to developing young people’s cyber skills.”

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman added: “I am pleased schools in the north-east of England and Northern Ireland now have the chance to showcase their first-rate cyber security teaching and gain NCSC certification.

“Educators can play a vital role in inspiring the next generation to consider a career in cyber security, and through CyberFirst we’re continuing to build a strong pipeline of diverse talent to protect people and businesses in the years to come.”

“CyberFirst Schools demonstrates our commitment to developing young people’s cyber skills”
Chris Ensor, NCSC

Northern Ireland education minister Peter Weir said he welcomed the introduction of the CyberFirst Schools programme to Northern Ireland and encouraged post-primary schools to apply for CyberFirst Schools status to showcase their teaching and excellence in cyber security education.

“This is a valuable opportunity for schools in Northern Ireland to be recognised for their first-rate cyber security teaching and for inspiring young people from all backgrounds to explore their passion for technology and potentially pursue a career in this flourishing industry,” he said.

Schools that meet all the judging criteria receive “gold” status for excellence in security education, “silver” certification is given to schools that offer good standards and meet most of the criteria, and “bronze” to those aiming towards high standards.

Certified schools receive a number of benefits besides NCSC recognition, such as opportunities to collaborate on cyber security-related activities with a network of over 130 partners from the industry and other sectors including banking, telecoms and transport.

Richard Brand, head of the Dean Academy at Lydney in Gloucestershire, which received silver status in the pilot round, said the scheme had had a positive impact on the local community, not just the school.

“The programme has helped us raise awareness of how important the cyber and computing sector has become in our local area, and allowed us to make our young people aware of the full range of opportunities available in this sector,” he said.

Applications for the next round of CyberFirst Schools are open until Friday 11 December 2020. Details on how to apply are available from the NCSC. Besides north-east England and Northern Ireland, this round will also remain open to schools in Gloucestershire and Wales.

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