From September, thousands of UK pupils can take part in a pilot tournament to represent their school in developing and cracking online codes to win a top prize worth £1,000.

The competition follows a new Cabinet Office-backed cyber security schools programme delivered by Cyber Security Challenge UK, which is also organising the competition.

The challenge will see teams of key stage 4 students breaking coded messages designed by industry experts and developing their own for other schools to crack.

It will launch in September and "aims to identify and hone the talents of UK students to address a growing skills gap in the UK's cyber defences", said Cyber Security Challenge UK.

To help teachers spark their student's interest, schools who register will receive a pack of ciphers and code breaking exercises. These will be accompanied by learning support materials and lesson plans, that not only teach classes how to crack these codes, but also gets them working in teams to develop their own ciphers.

These "student ciphers" will then be submitted to the Challenge and points attributed to each by a panel of industry experts, who will judge them on ingenuity and difficulty.

The ciphers will then be shared with other schools for them to crack in order to gain further points as part of a round-robin virtual tournament run over several weeks.

At the end of the virtual tournament the top scoring teams will be invited to a face-to-face final battle at the start of next year, to find the first ever Cyber Security Challenge Schools Champion. The winning team will earn a £1,000 cash prize for their school.

A schools taster challenge has been launched and is available to play now. This online cipher competition will see the winning team announced at the British Military Tournament in December, for which successful entrants will receive free tickets. 

Chloe Smith, minister at the Cabinet Office, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that school pupils with a talent for cyber security are identified, inspired and enabled. The competition will enable us to establish a pipeline of talented people to populate the UK cyber security job pool of the future."