Sixth Formers Matthew Lewis, James Wallace, Alex Ward and Henry Shaw spent the morning demonstrating their winning ‘blockchain’ solution at the UCAS headquarters in Cheltenham on Monday 1 July.
The boys, who caused a stir in February when they scooped third prize in the Barclays Blockchain Hackathon, intrigued technology staff at UCAS with their innovative solution and they subsequently invited the boys to share their ideas on how their solution could support the operational aspects of UCAS and how it could potentially be incorporated in future revisions of the UCAS results services.
On the day, the boys presented their idea to key stakeholders at UCAS, including their Chief Technology Officer and various operational managers who were fascinated at how well thought-through the boys’ idea was. It involved the concept of using smart contracts and blockchains to simulate the delivery of examination results as a currency, much like a bitcoin has value in the financial industry. UCAS detailed their ‘embargo’ periods when they receive student results from awarding bodies but deliver these to the various stakeholders – students, universities and schools – at key moments. The boys coupled these operational aspects of reality and discussed how the smart contracts in blockchains would maintain the integrity of the results by incorporating UCAS business-rules around the embargo in the currency.
The UCAS staff engaged with the boys’ ideas with great interest and enthusiasm and were bowled over at the maturity and knowledge of the boys, with Courteney Sheppard, Customer Experience Manager, stating that he “was amazed at the maturity and drive that the students showed with their vision, and the scope of their thinking beyond their core studies. Their innovative ideas to apply blockchain technology to a key part of an established process shows just how powerful young minds can be.”
All of the boys presented how they contributed to the original hackathon, from wire-framing a front-end, designing how the Ion Framework connects students, schools, universities and UCAS together through the smart contacts together with the business rules that would be embedded within the contracts.
Dr Dave Wild, the school’s Head of Computer Science, was immensely impressed to see how the boys had given more thought to their solution from the Hackathon and applied that, on the fly, to UCAS’s specific needs, taking into account their embargo scenarios and business processes. He emphasised the need for business to employ bright young minds, stating “Our visit to UCAS has helped broaden our students’ learning in school and join the dots from their own interest in computer science, applying it to the real world. Many people have learnt from our students in recent months, as they have confidently challenged conventional thinking, and I encourage leaders across different industries to welcome students like ours, and their new ways of thinking, into organisations and give them opportunities to add real value and improve existing processes.” He further added that the boys had gained enormous pleasure and value from the visit to UCAS and that it had opened their eyes to how their solution could potentially decentralise current existing UCAS processes. Lastly the thought that the value of boys seeing the operational complexities of how they get their results was an eye-opener for the boys, and they thanked UCAS for their hospitality and openness in exchange of ideas.
Matthew Lewis, who led the programming of the boys’ prototype, commented on the visit, saying, “It is so interesting to see how modern approaches in blockchain, designed primarily for the finance industries, can be applied in areas where the integrity, security and legal agreement are so important. The direct parallels with examination results, currency and legal and financial currency are more closely linked than anyone would imagine.”