4 minute read

Teachers’ stories: empowering students to build an app for the Royal Navy

Share this article:

Computing and IT are a core part of the national curriculum, and we’ve identified in our State of Technology in Education report that more schools are embracing a digital-first learning environment. Not only does digital literacy set students up with the fundamental skills to succeed in the modern workplace, but it can also lead to very exciting opportunities too.

We spoke to Simon Pykett, a computer science and IT teacher, who told us how his GCSE computer science pupils helped him develop an app for the Royal Navy:

I have spent the last thirteen years teaching computer science — a position that has led to many exciting tech opportunities. Growing up in the era of the earliest search engines and the first smartphones inspired me to learn to code before the days of content management systems and the global advancement of social media. So, now I am a freelance developer as well as a teacher, and now I have a range of clients from SMBs to notable individuals within the fields of sport and entertainment.

Today, I am a full-time developer, creative designer and SEO consultant and still work on some really exciting projects throughout the world. Working closely with my clients is something that I take great pride in, and providing them with the digital platform that they need and want is an intrinsic part of my business.

I don’t work alone though – I am part of an established and credible body of industry professionals who are experts in telecommunications, I.T. support and creative. We are distinct in how we deliver our services and we have come together as professional individuals, to provide our highly trusted services as one collective – the Geek Collective. And because we have a wide yet professional background, we are able to use our combined knowledge to provide a huge range of solutions throughout the UK, and beyond.

A unique opportunity for GCSE pupils 

In my capacity as a Computer Science teacher, I was approached by Lt Cdr George Blakeman, formerly the Area Recruitment Officer for the South West. He tasked me with updating the Naval Service Recruitment Test (NSRT) to make it more accessible for potential recruits, and provide an opportunity to practice the test in advance — ultimately increasing the chances of success. 

Previously, candidates were issued a booklet of sample questions. This booklet needed a serious revamp, so we decided to convert it into an app. At the time, I was teaching computer science to a small group of GCSE students so I tasked each student to help design and build a specific section of the web app whilst I designed and built the technical framework. These pupils were thrilled at the opportunity to be involved in such an innovative project.


Writing 10,000 lines of code

The NSRT web app was built over the course of a year and needed around 10,000 lines of code in three different languages; hyper-text markup language (HTML), cascading style sheets (CSS) and JavaScript (JS).  Each line of code was written by hand and went through several revisions to ensure that it met the high standards of The Royal Navy. It was designed to be used on devices of all screen widths and responds beautifully to each device that it is used on be it desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile. 

I was provided with retired exam questions and we based the content on these questions to ensure that the final product would be as close to an exam as possible. Several questions throughout the NSRT contain small diagrams, all of which were designed again, by hand.

Design meets brand

Careful design considerations were used during the build, which included using a highly appropriate colour scheme. The blue background and the reds on the buttons and on the background of the clocks were lifted directly from the Royal Navy logo itself; it was decided that the visual identity should resemble the official RN branding as closely as possible. This is only one small example of ‘design meets brand’ and this theme continues throughout the entire web app. 


Features such as the countdown clock that appears on the test pages themselves also took this on board. Appropriate colour theory was applied to ensure consistency across the entire brand — the amount of code it took to write this clock is a different story indeed!


Driving up the success rate of the NSRT 

In December 2017, the web app went live on MOD servers. In the initial three months of its use, it increased the success rate of the actual NSRT by over 30% — a huge achievement in itself. The additional stats of where this web-app currently stands speak volumes:

  • A year of development
  • 12,000 monthly users (av)
  • Used globally on an almost daily basis
  • 10,000 lines of code

There are now two versions of this NSRT web app; one still resides on MOD servers and has been updated to the RN’s overall online theme, and the other is the original & final version that now operates as a stand-alone web-app that is used daily by many hundreds of users throughout the world, including Great Britain, the US, Germany, Romania, Japan, Italy, Australia, Qatar and South Africa.

So, in today’s modern learning environments, students are benefiting from more and more opportunities to develop their core tech skills in the classroom and beyond. For candid insights into schools’ usage of technology, the future of tech in education, and more, view this year’s State of Technology in Education report.

Found this interesting? Why not share it:

Read more articles about:


Quick guide to collaboration

Find out why collaboration has become a key skill for pupils in the 21st century, and how beneficial its encouragement can be for your school.