The Biology Department, quite simply, seeks to encourage an interest in this most fundamental of sciences, exploring the relationships between cells, organs, systems and animals and their environments. The material is wide-ranging and relevant to our lives today and, of course, the subject supports (and is supported by) many other disciplines as well as providing a suitable foundation for a wealth of degree courses.
The Edexcel International IGCSE Biology course is taught over the three years of the Lower School.
There are two available courses:
Triple Award Science – Biology, Chemistry and Physics are studied and examined separately leading to three GCSE’s, one in each of the scientific disciplines.
Double Science – Biology, Chemistry and Physics are studied and are examined separately, but the marks are combined to give two GCSE’s. This course gives a good grounding in each of the three sciences but covers some material in lesser detail.
Both are linear courses which are examined in the summer of the Upper Fifth Form.
The course covers the following five subject areas:
- The nature and variety of living organisms
- Structures and functions in living organisms
- Reproduction and inheritance
- Ecology and the environment
- Use of biological resources
The decision whether to take Double Science (DAS) or Triple Award Science (TAS) is made by the pupils at the end of the Fourth Form.
The International GCSE courses, whether double award or triple award, provide an excellent foundation for those pupils wishing to study Biology at A Level.
September 2015 sees the start of a modified AS and A2 specification within which the two qualifications are ‘uncoupled’ so pupils will sit examinations for each level of achievement; the A2 papers will contain material from the AS lessons (but set at a higher level of difficulty). Overall the new course is divided into four units (two for the AS and two for the A2) and there are 12 compulsory experiments. The AS units are further divided into a four related, but separate, topics:
- Biological Molecules
- Organisms exchange substances with their environment
- Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms.
The names of the four topics clearly indicate their content but it is worth pointing out the progression inherent in this course of study. Beginning with the basics of biochemistry (carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) the topic continues into a consideration of the part played by enzymes and then looks at fundamental aspects behind the roles of DNA and RNA; how they are produced, and how DNA replicates. A slight diversion from the main theme takes students into a consideration of chemical energy (ATP) and the topic concludes with the most vital compound of all, water. The second topic builds extensively on these foundations by considering the structure of cells: what they contain, how each component works and how they work together. Bacteria and viruses are included here as are the methods employed to study cells (basic microscopy), and how the cells’ components are isolated and analysed. Organisms are made up of groups of organs, themselves made of groups of tissues made of cells and, as many organisms begin life as single cells, so cellular replication and differentiation are important and are covered next. Once the basics of cytology are completed the topic moves on to consider cell recognition and the immune system, including a brief examination of monoclonal antibodies.
The third topic, “exchange with the environment”, tackles the basic principle of the surface area to volume ratio and then considers this in relation to gaseous exchange in higher animals and also the digestive system. The circulatory system is linked to both of these and this ties the unit together and finishes it off rather neatly. The final topic in the AS course involves a more detailed examination of DNA than was required earlier with its contribution to the synthesis of proteins being closely examined. The process by which cells are replicated, whether for growth and repair, or in the formation of gametes, is revisited to allow pupils to investigate sources of genetic variation; this leads on to a brief examination of natural selection and evolution. Classification and biodiversity conclude this fascinating unit.
There are two written examination papers, each lasting 90 minutes.
As this is a transition phase, the ‘old’ A2 course, described below, has one more year to run but will be replaced with a new version for teaching from September 2016.
The A2 course in the Upper Sixth involves two more theoretical units; ‘Populations and Environment’ and finally ‘Control in Cells and in Organisms’. Here we will be considering the fact that living organisms form structured communities within dynamic but essentially stable ecosystems through which energy is transferred and within which chemical elements are cycled. To do this we will be extending our ecological work from the AS course and adding a little more detail as well as widening the topic considerably. Consideration of the effects of humans on the planet underpins the content of this unit and by the end we should have arrived at an understanding that sustainability of resources depends on effective management of the conflict between human needs and conservation.
In the final unit, ‘Control in Cells and in Organisms’ we will be reminded that multi-cellular organisms are able to control the activities of different tissues and organs within their bodies by detecting stimuli (external or internal, or both) and by stimulating appropriate effectors. Plants use specific growth factors, animals use hormones, nerve impulses or a combination of both and it is by responding to these stimuli that animals increase their chances of survival and maintain optimal conditions for their metabolism. We end the topic with a brief look at genetic control and then at genetic manipulation and gene technology both from an exploitative and diagnostic angle. The final part is a second investigative skill (effectively the sixth unit) and that concludes the A2 course.