Bedford School Sixth Formers Matthew Lewis, James Wallace, Alex Ward and Henry Shaw caused a stir in the Barclays Blockchain Hackathon on the 5 and 6 February in London when they scooped third prize. 

Awash with technical teams from banks and high-profile tech companies, the Bedford School boys were the only school team invited and had no prior blockchain technology experience up until two days before the event. Despite this, they managed to pitch their idea, set up blockchain networks*, install software, develop a project and present it to not only the UK’s big banks and tech companies but also professional services firms such as Ernst & Young and journalists from the financial press.

During the competition, the boys, alongside all the other competitors, were challenged to come up with an idea for exchanging data and verifying transactions between two different blockchains using Ion interoperability protocol. The Bedford School team identified a novel use-case for the technology; that of data exchange that enabled UCAS, exam-boards, awarding bodies, schools and students to all transfer and digitally sign contracts seamlessly in a currency that is very valuable to them – their exam results.  

During the pitch process, carried out Dragons’ Den style, the boys’ ideas immediately generated great excitement with the judges, mostly comprising of technical directors from banks, including Barclays, HSBC, Santander and UBS, who were overheard saying things like, “Do you realise that this could be applied to…” and “my god, this is brilliant!”.

After their successful pitch, the boys set about the task of coding, from scratch, a working prototype of the solution. They created contracts that were digitally signed and passed through the block-chain Ion framework, being filled out by awarding bodies and schools; passing around examination result-tokens like bitcoins in a financial market.

During the event, the boys also identified two important defects in the technology that they were using. The technical team at Clearmatics, the company who invented the Ion framework, could not believe that boys from a school could find such important defects. Clearmatics posted: “Some bright and motivated A-Level students from Bedford School were one of the teams, and they raised issues in our GitHub repository and even wrote a pull request.”

Speaking on the boys’ inventive solution, Dr Lee Braine, Investment Bank CTO Office at Barclays, explained, “Their solution was the only one that was truly generalised and re-usable, and it opened our eyes to new use-cases that nobody has thought of before”. He continued “Bedford’s pitch was professional, clear and concise, and we actually saw the working prototype of contracts being automatically swapped between exam-boards and schools”.

Computer Science Teacher, Dr Wild told us, “I have never been more proud of boys in all my time at the school – they were the talk of the event. They were personally congratulated by the Chief Technology Officer for the Corporate and Investment Bank at Barclays, and Santander has already opened a dialogue about possible future careers. Quite some achievement!”


*Blockchain networks allow digital information to be distributed but not copied.  

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