Head of Department

Mr F.P.A. LaughtonBSc, PGCE

OVERVIEW

Residing in the fantastically well-equipped Emms building, the enthusiastic Biology staff seek to encourage an interest in this fundamental, exciting and ever-changing science. Biology affects all of us, and through exploring the relationships between cells, organs, systems, organisms and their environments, students gain a sense of perspective and appreciation for the world in which we live. The material is wide-ranging, with contemporary references to biotechnological advances making it highly relevant to our lives today. The subject supports, and is supported by, many other disciplines and it also provides a suitable foundation for a wealth of degree courses, both scientific and non-scientific.

Lower School (IGCSE)

The Edexcel International GCSE 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 qualifications, one in each of the scientific disciplines.
  • Double Science – Biology, Chemistry and Physics are studied and examined separately, but the marks are combined to give two GCSE qualifications. 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.

Upper School (A Level)

September 2015 saw the start of a modified linear A Level specification, with exam papers that will test material from both the Lower and Upper Sixth. Overall, the new course is divided into four units (two to be taught in the Lower Sixth and two more in the Upper Sixth), and there are 12 compulsory experiments required to complete the practical competency section of the course.

Lower Sixth

In the Lower Sixth, two units are further divided into four related topics:

  • Biological Molecules
  • Cells
  • 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 basic principle that all life on Earth shares a common chemistry, we tackle the biochemistry of water, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. The topic continues to explore enzymes and then looks at the fundamental roles of nucleic acids and the universal nature of the genetic code. A slight diversion from the main theme leads students to consider chemical energy (ATP) at the end of this topic. 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). Organisms are made up of groups of organs, themselves comprising groups of tissues made of cells and, as many organisms begin life as single cells, so cell division 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. The third topic tackles the basic principle of surface area to volume ratio and then considers this in relation to gaseous exchange and digestion in animals. The circulatory system is linked to both of these and it ties the section together, finishing 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 processes by which cells divide, 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 exploration of natural selection and evolution. Classification and biodiversity conclude this fascinating unit.

Upper Sixth

The second year of the A Level course is divided into four main areas of study, each of which builds on the Lower Sixth content:

  • Energy transfers in and between organisms
  • Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments
  • Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems
  • The control of gene expression.

The energy topic looks at how life depends on continuous transfers of energy, starting with a detailed examination of the process of photosynthesis, linking it to the formation of ATP in respiration and the passage of energy through the ecosystem. There is a brief consideration of the inefficiency of the transfer of energy from trophic level to trophic level. The next topic contrasts the nervous and hormonal systems of internal communication, both in terms of how they work, and the nature of the response. The control of plant growth is also considered. Mendelian Genetics and the study of Hardy-Weinberg population genetics provide a challenging but fascinating link to the Theory of Evolution, so the third topic considers Darwin’s ideas in a modern context with an up-to-date consideration of classification. The formation of new species follows naturally and the course then examines the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on communities. The course closes with a consideration of how cells control their metabolic activities by regulating transcription and translation of their genome. We also consider how the epigenome can be altered to control gene expression before gene technology, that most modern of sciences, winds it all up.

The A Level is awarded following three examinations. The first of these covers material from the Lower Sixth year, while the second paper picks up on the Upper Sixth topics. The final synoptic paper covers everything that has been studied over the two years. Each examination lasts 2 hours.

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