‘ISSP 7-8’ Lecture Review

Last week I attended an ISSP lecture by Thomas Briggs from Bletchley Park with other year 7-8 students about ‘Codes & Ciphers’. We looked at Morse Code and encryption methods to make data unreadable to unintended parties like the Caesar cipher where each letter is replaced with one a certain number up or down the alphabet.  We were told about the history of Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes, as Britain’s main decryption centre during World War Two. It was well located being remote, safe from bombing in London but well connected. People first moved there pretending to be friends in ‘Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party’ enjoying a weekend away. Really, they were from MI6, and the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS), a secret team of Codebreakers. At first GC&CS recruited graduates from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, particularly Classicists who were good at Latin which used code breaking type skills and mathematicians who were good problem solvers. Bletchley Park started in 1939 with 150 staff, but grew rapidly. Some were recruited from a national crossword puzzle- if you could complete it in 10 minutes you could sit crosswords in exam conditions and then may be interviewed but weren’t told what the job was! As Bletchley Park grew, sections moved into large wooden huts which for security reasons were known only by their hut numbers. Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited once but couldn’t go often to risk its security. He said Bletchley Park should have everything they wanted.

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Most enemy messages were tele-printer code enciphered with the complex Lorenz cipher machine. They were sent by telegrams communicating to army commanders in the field through telephone and telegraph cables as the Germans, Japanese and Italians thought they were unreadable. The intelligence value of breaking these was huge. In the lecture, we were shown an Enigma machine and had a hands-on demonstration. It looked like a typewriter but had a lamp board above the keys with a lamp for each letter. The operator pressed the key for the original letter of the message and the enciphered letter lit up on the lamp board. The machine had interchangeable rotors, which rotated every time a key was pressed to keep the cipher changing continuously. This was combined with a plug board on the front of the machine where pairs of letters were exchanged; these two systems gave 49 quintillion settings (!!!), which the Germans thought made Enigma unbreakable!

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The first big break into Enigma messages at Bletchley Park came in January 1940, when mathematicians including Alan Turing, broke the German Army key known as ‘The Green’. Later they cracked the ‘Red’ key used by the Luftwaffe (German air force). German, Italian and Japanese systems were broken. Breaking the ciphers gave vital intelligence to Allied military operations. It is said that the information from Bletchley shortened the war by 2-4 years, and without it the outcome would have been uncertain. Bletchley Park also started the information age as code breaking was first done by hand but they could not keep up with the number of intercepts so they made machines such as ‘Colossus’, the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer. We were shown a photograph of Colossus and it was huge! Sadly, they were all destroyed after the war but replicas are now in Bletchley Park. I would like to visit Bletchley Park and definitely recommend going to ISSP lectures as you learn lots of interesting information about new topics.

Sebastian – Year 7

Summer Schools 2017

Following our successful summer schools from 2013 to 2016 we are providing an academic summer school again this year for able, interested and motivated students from our 11 partner schools across the city.  Due to parental (and student) requests we are  running the summer school for years 9 and 10 in addition to our usual event for years 7 and 8.

Our summer schools run from Monday 31 July to Thursday 3 August and are extended masterclasses with the young people studying one subject over the 4 days. This allows for in-depth study, something our students ask for repeatedly in masterclass feedback. The opportunity to be involved in an exciting, fun but challenging workshop studying a subject that you are passionate about and delivered by an outstanding professional is an opportunity not to be missed.

Information about the Summer Schools and details of how to register for the launch meeting on 4 May are now with each school’s contact. See here for list.

Bootham triumph in York Schools Science Quiz

Budding scientists from across the city have come together to take on the fourth annual York Schools Science Quiz.

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In a tightly-fought contest, run as part of York Independent State School Partnership programme, Bootham School came out on top in the open competition, with hosts St Peter’s School and Joseph Rowntree School in second and third. Questions covered Biology, Chemistry and Physics, with bonus rounds including questions on science in the headlines and an observation challenge.

Schools from outside the city were also welcomed to this year’s quiz, and Bedale High School took home the prize for the best-performing school without a Sixth Form, whilst local schools Millthorpe School and Manor Academy took second and third place respectively.

David Morris, Head of Science at St Peter’s School, said: “The schools of York have supported this event wonderfully, making this year’s quiz the biggest so far, and with schools from outside of York joining in, I’m sure it will continue to grow! The pupils faced some very demanding questions, but they answered impressively, and I’m sure everybody has learned plenty of fascinating new science. Many congratulations to Bootham School and Bedale High School on their victories.”

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The schools represented were The Joseph Rowntree School, Archbishop Holgate’s School, Fulford School, The Mount School, Manor Academy, Millthorpe School, Bootham School, and St Peter’s School from within York, and from outside the city, Bedale High School, Harrogate Ladies College, Pudsey Grangefield School and Archbishop Sentamu Academy.

7-8 Lecture: Codes & Ciphers



‘Codes & Ciphers’ is the second in a new series of events which we have introduced this year. Our intention is that ‘ISSP 7-8’ is a termly event for years 7 & 8 running from 7 to 8pm where high profile speakers will enthuse and inspire children through a 1 hour lecture. We are delighted that Thomas Briggs from Bletchley Park is coming to lead a talk for us called ‘Codes and Ciphers’.

This will be a session offering a whistle stop tour of encryption methods used throughout history, beginning with simple encryption techniques, dipping into some of the mathematics behind making ciphers more secure, and ending with a hands-on demonstration of a real, working Enigma machine.


Students will try some codebreaking of their own.
Parents are welcome to come, but don’t have to, but will be seated separately.

Date: Monday 27 March

Time: 7.00pm – 8.00pm

Place: Bootham School Hall

If your child in year 7 or 8 is interested in this event please do get in touch: york.issp@gmail.com

Masterclasses 2017 – Now Full

Our masterclass programme, running annually since 2008, has consistently been rated very highly by the young people and has been oversubscribed each year. This year’s masterclass programme is again designed to push and challenge York’s most able and interested students.

All masterclasses are now full and applications are closed.  Confirmations have been sent to all participants together with details for the first day, Saturday 11 March.