The best way to study biology is to be immersed in it at a practical level. The Department is lucky to have well-resourced laboratories and a skilled and enthusiastic team of beaks and technicians who believe in the importance of exploring. The greenhouse, aquaria and terraria add informal opportunities to encounter a range of organisms. Even our Victorian taxidermy sparks debate, not only of the animals on view but on how they can be studied ethically today.
Relatively small classes enable plenty of hands-on practical work, developing dexterity, confidence, observational skills and systematic working. We look to cultivate creative and imaginative young researchers who can devise experiments, have the knowledge and experience to carry them out effectively and are able to critique the experiments of others. Other activities demonstrate the potential of biotechnology and genetic engineering in the most direct ways, raising debate about how such technologies can be applied, and educating pupils to engage with the ‘Can we? Should we?’ debate.
We aim to educate pupils well beyond any examined curriculum to be scientifically literate, thoughtful young adults who can make informed decisions about their own health and life choices and make contributions to shaping the economies and societies of tomorrow.
Lower School Biology prepares pupils for the Edexel IGCSE. This commences in the Shell and all pupils follow the same course with a focus on cell biology, nutrition and ecology. In the Remove, pupils study reproduction, gas exchange and transport systems in animals and plants. In both year groups, health education is interwoven with the examined curriculum. By the end of the Remove, pupils will be working towards either the separate IGCSE in Biology or the IGCSE Science (Double Award). In both cases, the curriculum time is the same. In the Hundred, topics include the nervous and hormonal coordination, excretion and genetics.
In the Upper School, we follow OCR A level Biology ‘A’ (H420). While there is much overlap with the IGCSE course in the general areas of Biology covered, the treatment is far more analytical. Biological systems are studied at various levels, from molecules and cells to organisms and ecosystems. These provide a foundation that extends to modern methods of studying and manipulating genomes at one extreme and to consideration of global biodiversity and conservation issues at the other. There is a balance between human physiology (gas exchange, transport, immune, nervous and endocrine systems), plant biology (photosynthesis and transport) and microorganisms (disease and ecology). Similarly, there is both pure biology, such as the study of processes common to all life, e.g., respiration, genetics and evolution, and applied biology, e.g., biotechnology, manipulating genomes and conservation. The practical elements of the course are vital and contribute towards earning the practical endorsement that is of particular importance for entry to science degrees.
We have a beautiful campus which includes river, pond, grassland and woodland habitats and the enjoyment of natural history has long been established in the College. Shell extension activities have included the House Natural History Quiz and exploration of the Nature Trail. ‘Horrible Science’ clubs have exposed Shell and Remove pupils to Biology at close quarters. The Natural History and Biology Society runs a programme of lectures from visiting speakers, drawing on bioscience experts in medicine, broadcasting and research.
There is a deep pool of expertise in the Department and beaks offer additional sessions which focus on a personal interest or on consolidating a particular area of the curriculum. Reading, exploring and discussing are encouraged with a well-stocked library and signposting to extension resources on the College Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Firefly.
Pupils have opportunities from Remove to Upper Sixth to enter the annual competitions run by the Royal Society of Biology and others as they arise. Ambitious pupils are encouraged to enter essay competitions such as those run by the Oxbridge colleges. There is an active mentoring programme for those applying for Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine and Oxbridge degrees.