Biology is the science of life and of living organisms. The subject is taught throughout the school using a range of teaching methods including independent, collaborative and practical work. Our aim is to develop knowledge and understanding of various biological concepts, giving individuals the opportunity to develop an understanding of scientific methods and the important role that biology plays in today’s society.
In Years 7 and 8 all students follow an integrated Key Stage 3 Science course, and Biology is taught as a separate subject from Year 9. At KS4 each science discipline is taught by subject specialists, and at GCSE, the students are studying either AQA Trilogy Science or AQA Separate Sciences.
Demand for Biology in the Sixth Form is very high. Currently we have four groups following the AQA Biology specification to AS and five to A2. Results at KS5 have been consistently outstanding and more than 60% of students elect to follow a Biology/science related course at university. In recent years students have achieved national recognition in competitions run by the Royal Society of Biology, and they have also received AQA awards for outstanding examination performances.
Within the Biology Department the students are offered a wide range of extra-curricular activities to develop and extend their individual interests. During Biology Week in October we provide activities, talks, competitions and careers information. Throughout the year, we also provide a programme of speakers from universities who are specialists in biology related fields. They discuss current biological developments with the students, and promote the vast career opportunities that the subject offers. We welcome talks from any parents who would like to become part of this programme. The students are also responsible for the maintenance and care of tropical fish, which are housed within the Department. Teachers provide weekly additional help at a drop-in on Tuesday lunchtimes in Lab 6, and also offer after school support to any pupil if required.
Each year we enter students into these two national competitions, run by the Royal Society of Biology. Biology Challenge is a competition for Year 9 and 10. Our students compete online against students around the country, with bronze, silver and gold awards being awarded to the highest scoring students. The competition requires the students to answer questions that tested their knowledge beyond the curriculum areas that they study. The Biology Olympiad is a competition for Year 13 students who show outstanding knowledge of Biology. It consists of a demanding online test and they compete against students from around the country. If students succeed in the first paper there is then a supplementary test, and then, if selected as one of 12 finalists, there are also practical tests to determine the overall winner, and a presentation event in London in July. Winners then may be selected to represent Britain in the International Biology Olympiad, competing with teams from around the world..
In October we provide a full week of activities in recognition of national Biology Week. We run annual competitions – a nature photography competition and the Great Biology Bake Off. We have visitors providing talks, workshops, practical work and careers advice. Previous examples include an Ebola debate, a genetics workshop using fruit flies, careers talks from Chester Zoo, a dissection masterclass and new for this year, a Saturday study day watching a live post mortem with a semi-synthetic cadaver!
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Club
STEM club is a weekly club which allows students in Years 7-9 to explore their interest in biology and science further, whilst appreciating how the sciences, technology and mathematics are subjects which are closely linked, and rely upon each other. During STEM club students have the opportunity to take part in hands on practical activities and projects, ranging from using microscopes and observing dissections, to working as a forensic scientist and building models.
PTI Primary School Project
The Biology department has been involved in a three year project in collaboration with three primary schools. Year 12 students have been involved in devising teaching resources and activities to enhance science teaching at KS2. They are now in the process of visiting the schools to deliver sessions and improve them for future use. Our students get experience of teaching and project work, whilst supporting primary teachers in developing subject knowledge and ideas for teaching.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is Biology Taught?
In Years 7 and 8 Biology is taught as part of a Science course within forms. From Year 9, biology is taught as a separate subject by a subject specialist. In Year 9, pupils are taught in mixed groups and in Years 10 and above they are taught in mixed groups according to whether they take Trilogy Sciences or Separate Sciences.
What resources will I have available to me?
Your teacher will usually provide you with a set of printed notes for each topic. You will also have access to a specification specific textbook for extra reading. The Department has a range of resources available for you on the school network and other online areas such as Edmodo, and you are actively encouraged to use the revision material that is provided on this area. At all levels you are encouraged to read around the subject and you can subscribe to publications such as “Catalyst” at GCSE, and “Biological Review” or ‘’New Scientist’’ at Advanced Level.
How much practical work is involved?
The Department aims to carry out as much practical work as possible for each topic of the syllabus. At GCSE and A level there are required practicals, however we often enhance lessons with additional investigations and demonstrations. These include both individual and group practical work to demonstrate the concepts studied, as well as fieldwork.
Do you need to study separate sciences to access the Advanced Level Course?
Taking Biology as a separate GCSE is the best preparation for Advanced Level. If you have not taken this option, you are required to complete the Biology ‘Bridging the Gap’ course prior to commencing the Advanced Level course. This course covers areas of the GCSE course not taught on the additional science specification including several practicals not covered on the Trilogy course, and takes place in school after the GCSE examinations. You are expected to attend school for two days to complete the course, to ensure that you have studied all the necessary concepts essential for Advanced Level study. A teacher will be available to give you individual attention and to guide you through the material.
What do I do if I am struggling with the subject?
If you are struggling with any topic, we recommend that you seek help in the first instance from your subject teacher at a mutually convenient time. You can also use our “drop-in” clinics on Tuesday lunchtime in Lab 6 to gain further help with any areas of concern.
Where can Biology take you?
The subject of Biology covers a wide range of subjects including anatomy, genetics, physiology, biochemistry, enzymology, microbiology and Ecology. The basics of these are covered at A Level and form the basis for further study. Many university courses combine elements from several subject areas so it is possible to study a biological subject with mathematics, a foreign language, engineering or computing.
Key Stage 3 – Year 7-9
In Years 7 and 8, Biology is taught within a Science course. Pupils are taught in form groups and cover a range of topics including: Cells, Tissues and Organs, Digestion and Reproduction in Year 7. In Year 8 pupils study Plants and Ecology, the Muscular, Skeletal and Breathing System and Respiration. They have the opportunity to carry out a range of practical work with the aim being to develop confidence in practical techniques that are needed to succeed as a Scientist. Pupils learn how Science and Scientific understanding is relevant to today’s society both in lessons and within extra-curricular activities, such as a visit to Chester Zoo.
Pupils begin the GCSE course at the start of Year 9. Starting the course earlier provides pupils with a greater range of practical experiences and time to study aspects of the course in more depth, thus providing them with a better grounding for future study.
Key Stage 4 – GCSE
At GCSE, the Science Department offers either Trilogy Sciences or three Separate Sciences. All Science areas are taught by subject specialists in mixed ability groupings and the GCSE teaching starts in Year 9.
The course aims to develop pupils’ interest and enthusiasm for science, develop a critical approach to scientific evidence and methods and to acquire a knowledge and understanding of Biology and how science works, also focusing on its essential role in society. There are a variety of teaching methods used to enable pupils to acquire scientific skills and knowledge and the understanding necessary to progress to advanced level, if desired. Pupils are expected to utilise all resources, including those available on the school network, to supplement their studies.
A copy of the Trilogy Science syllabus can be downloaded from the AQA website. There is no controlled assessment / coursework element to this course; practical work is assessed as part of the written examinations at the end of Year 11.
There are seven topics in the GCSE course:
- Cell biology
- Infection and response
- Homeostasis and response
- Inheritance, variation and evolution
The Biology element of the the Trilogy course is assessed through two written papers. Paper 1 contains topics 1-4 and Paper 2 contains topics 5-7. Both have equal weighting and last 1 hr 15 – these two marks make up a third of the total Trilogy Science marks.
Pupils complete the same seven topics as the Trilogy course, but within each topic they learn in greater depth. They also have more required practicals.
A copy of the Biology syllabus is available from the AQA website. Pupils are assessed in two 1 hour 45 examinations at the end of Year 11. Paper 1 contains topics 1-4 and Paper 2 contains topics 5-7.
Key Stage 5 – A Level
We aim to give interesting and varied lessons using a range of resources and teaching methods, and we value the contributions made by students during lessons. Each student is provided with course notes, past paper questions, textbooks, practical booklets and a student handbook, which contain all the relevant information for the course.
We follow the AQA Biology course, which is designed to encourage candidates to develop:
- An enthusiasm for Biology
- Practical skills alongside understanding of concepts and principles
- An appropriate and relevant foundation of knowledge and skills for the study of Biology in Higher Education.
At AS, this specification stimulates the enthusiasm of teachers and students from the start. It emphasises the way in which biologists work and the contributions of Biology to society in a way that underpins the specification but is not intrusive.
Please note that if you have only studied Science and Additional Science then you must complete the AGGS bridging course before you embark upon A level Biology. Details will be provided to pupils from AGGS before they leave; pupils who will be joining AGGS for sixth form should contact Ms Russell, Head of Biology for information about summer work.
The step from GCSE to AS level can be a challenging one. You will be expected to work in a more independent way than you may have been used to. Your teachers will make sure that you cover all of the material in the GCE AQA specification, but they will assume that you can organise your work so that you complete the coverage in your own individual way. To help you to do this you will have access a range of resources including:
- An AQA-approved textbook
- Online resources on the school network and other websites
- An online departmental handbook that includes the syllabus, reading and internet links etc.
- Suitable notes, activities and past examination questions that link with each topic.
We also hold Biology Drop-in sessions on Monday lunchtimes where members of the department are available to give you additional help with any areas of difficulty.
What will I study during Year 12?
In Year 12 you will be taught four units:
- Biological molecules
- Organisms exchange substances with their environment
- Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms
There will also be six compulsory investigations you must complete during Year 12; your understanding of the principles of these will be assessed during your examinations.
The Year 12 course builds on the skills and understanding that you developed in the GCSE course so that you can develop a firm understanding of concepts and ideas. Biology at A level will require you to describe and explain facts and processes in detail and with accuracy. You will also need to develop skills so that you can apply what you have learned and examination papers will test skills such as interpreting new information, analysing experimental data, using mathematics and evaluating information.
At the end of Year 12 you will take internal examinations to assess your progress. These, along with other teacher assessments throughout the year, will be used to predict your A level Biology grade.
All assessment for A level subjects must occur at the end of the course i.e. at the end of Year 13 in 2019. In Year 13 you will study a further four units:
- Energy transfers in and between organisms
- Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external
- Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems
- The control of gene expression
There will also be another six compulsory investigations you must complete during Year 13; your understanding of the principles of these will be assessed during your examinations.
Your examinations will include material from all eight topics, divided as follows:
Paper 1: Topics 1-4. 2 hour paper 35% of A level
Paper 2: Topics 5-8. 2 hour paper 35% of A level
Paper 3: Topics 1-8. 2 hour paper 30% of A level
In addition, the practical work you have undertaken will be assessed by your teachers, and if you are deemed to have completed all practical work during both Year 12 and Year 13 satisfactorily, you will receive a ‘Pass’ endorsement for practical work on your A level certificate.
Much more information about both the subject content and the assessment of the course can be found in the course specification: http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/resources/biology/specifications/AQA-7401-7402-SP-2015-V1-0.PDF
Is Biology right for me?
The Biology course is a fantastic mix of different specialisms; botany, zoology, genetics, immunology, ecology, molecular biology, biochemistry, agriculture, physiology, neuroscience and much more. The department appreciates that all students will have their own areas of interest, yet we expect our students to find all aspects of the study of living things exciting and interesting. We urge you, if you haven’t already, to take a close look at the specification – the content in places is vastly different to what you have studied at GCSE and you must be prepared to work extremely hard to meet the demands of the A level course.
During the course, you will also need to consider how research is conducted and how scientists’ work affects people in their everyday lives. Current events often directly link to the course and we expect you to have an awareness of events and scientific breakthroughs. We provide a huge range of extracurricular opportunities for our students, including talks and conferences, visits to Manchester University and invitations to the Manchester Lit and Phil Society’s Young People Talks. Every year the department runs a varied timetable of activities for Biology Week in October. There is a weekly Science Society, run by the sixth form, and opportunities to run STEM Club for younger pupils. There are competitions run throughout the year and we urge all our students to get involved. Evidence of learning outside the classroom and pursuing your interest beyond the curriculum is a fantastic way to stand out to universities and future employers.
You are expected to read additional material not only to help you with your understanding, but also to help you with the “stretch and challenge” aspects of the course. We recommend you subscribe to “Biological Sciences Review” which will give you a great deal of extra information. You will also be given extra reading, such as BioFactsheets. This can help enhance your understanding of biological principles and is fantastic practice for studying at university, where you may be faced with challenging academic papers.