We strongly believe students learn best through experimentation, so we develop both their practical skills and confidence to directly explore questions in the laboratory.
Students may carry out as many as seven practicals in a fortnightly cycle – we learn the biological theory through doing, not sitting still! This not only aids understanding, but brings the confidence students need if they decide to study a scientific degree.
Students learn the importance of questioning. They develop the wherewithal and skills to critically assess the apparently evident and the commonly-held belief, through producing and analysing data to draw their own conclusions.
We ensure students leave with the practical skills needed for a scientific university course. Students should be able to calibrate the eyepiece graticule of a microscope using a stage micrometer and know how to examine a range of histological material. They should also be confident handling a variety of biological equipment and performing a range of experiments from serial dilutions to dissection of material.
The International A level course is academically challenging, with a lot of material to cover. Students must read widely and be prepared to apply their knowledge to novel situations in the examinations. The course tests practical skills through a practical examination; practical work is a central part of each lesson and each student has two laboratory practical books in which all practical work is recorded.
- Learning journey - Lower Sixth
Choosing to study biology at A level does require a very secure understanding of work covered at IGCSE, so at the start of the Lower Sixth students sit an IGCSE style test to ensure they have a good knowledge base to work from.
In the Lower Sixth students cover cell structure, biological molecules, enzymes, cell membranes and transport, cell and nuclear division, genetic control, transport, gas exchange, infectious disease and immunity.
There are no external AS exams at the end of the Lower Sixth year. Students will sit three internal papers, one of which will be a practical exam.
- Learning journey - Upper Sixth
In the Upper Sixth students cover energy and respiration, photosynthesis, homeostasis, control and co-ordination, inherited change, selection and evolution, biodiversity, classification and conservation and genetic technology.
The international A level course is assessed by five papers which are taken at the end of the Upper Sixth year.
- Providing stretch
Sixth Formers take part in the national Biology Olympiad, organised by the Royal Society of Biology, and have often proved highly successful. In 2019 students performed very well achieving a total of 12 Gold, 10 Silver, 22 Bronze, 14 Highly Commended and 19 Commended results, and in 2018 one Upper Sixth student won a Gold medal at the International Biology Olympiad. Her ranking of 15th in the world placed her as the most successful participant representing the United Kingdom.
We run a number of trips, including visits to the Babraham Institute where students take part in sessions led by senior researchers. These have included examining gene regulation in stem cells or learning about the epigenetic modification of the genome. Students have attended the Women in Science conference held at the University of Cambridge.
We help Lower Sixth students secure summer placements. Students have been offered prestigious Nuffield Research Placements – one studying molecular cloning of human tropomyosin genes into new vectors – and won Gold CREST awards for projects completed on placements.
We encourage wide reading to stimulate intellectual curiosity and develop new interests, understanding and skills. Biology students are encouraged to consider delving into Misha Angrist’s Here is a Human Being, M. Leroi’s Mutants and Colin Tudge’s: The Secret Life of Trees, among other works.
We always enthusiastically celebrate National Biology Week and our sixth form biology prefects play a role in helping with the many activities provided.
- Beyond the classroom
Biologists frequently come to give lectures as part of our 42 society. Speakers have included Dr Jem Rashbass, National Director for Disease Registration at Public Health England, whose lecture ‘Blood, pus and stones: a few things you find at a post-mortem’ was not for the squeamish, and consultant neurosurgeon Rodney Laing, who explored the hype and reality that surrounds attempts to fix the brain and spine.
We invite outside speakers who are experts in their field to give practical presentations to students – one such visitor was Dr Guy Sutton from Medical Biology Interactive for a session on health and disease of the brain.
The Biology Society aims provides opportunities to go beyond A level study and gain knowledge and skills that prepare students for university interviews and study. Much of the activity is practical, from rat dissections to immunological experiments, and the society is a great way of furthering knowledge and gaining interesting experience to use in personal statements and interviews.
The Medical Forum is for those students considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, to provide information about these professions and to explore how to put together successful university applications.
Our Medical Ethics discussion forum ‘METHICS’ is led by students. The group meets regularly to consider issues that transcend medical and ethical boundaries, unpacking the issue and the range of possible responses.
- Biology at university
Students considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine can get an insight into these professions through our Medical Forum, and an opportunity to work with peers and advisers to put together successful university applications. We have two advisers on our universities team who are specialists in supporting students wishing to go into medicine. They work 1:1 with students to prepare them for admissions tests such as the UKCAT and BMAT.
We provide similar support for those considering biology or natural sciences to provide them with the best chance of securing their first choice course. In addition to the 1:1 advice, the Biology Society provides many opportunities for students to gain extra knowledge and interesting experience to draw on at interview.