The Sixth Form
Most of our A level biologists follow the Salters Nuffield Advanced Biology (SNAB) Syllabus which is an exciting course with a modern approach to teaching and learning based on that used in the majority of university medical schools. Content is taught through eight contemporary context-led topics. However, the department is keen to innovate, and so a number of our 6.1 (AS) students are following the more recent OCR Syllabus as a trial. This incorporates a number of cutting-edge scientific discoveries and mirrors the way biology is taught at universities. The academic learning style is well-balanced by a series of integral practical tasks.
Small sets are taught by a number of dons who teach successive topics. Common testing and assessments run throughout the courses. The subject gives plenty of scope for expeditions to local university and medical research centres, Oxford museums and botanic gardens, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, the London Zoo and Aquarium. Whichever course the students follow, they all attend a compulsory four/five day field course which gives us a head-start on the A2 part of the syllabus, as well as being great fun!
The projects laboratory provides extra scope for studying practically some of the highly significant developments in biotechnology as well as biomedical topics. The David Hardy seminar room is equipped with reference texts, biological and medical journals and material to support A-level study outside the laboratory. We also have twelve laptops for classroom-based use of the SNAB and other websites.
Potential biologists may want to get into higher education or to pursue a particular career, but above all should study this challenging, innovative, practical science because they enjoy it. The curriculum will be found equally stimulating by pupils with interests as diverse as medical physiology and natural history. Boys should feel confident in applying what they have learned in all three sciences at IGCSE to developing their understanding and knowledge of Biology – they are likely to find the course difficult unless they have achieved a B grade (BB) or above at GCSE.
Biology is most frequently combined with Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Geography. However it works very well alongside subjects like English, Economics, History and Languages also, but some candidates will find parts of the course very taxing when studied without the support of at least one other science. Candidates hoping to take a degree in biological sciences would normally be expected to have studied Chemistry and possibly even Mathematics at A-level.
After A level
Biology in combination with other A levels can lead to university courses in Natural Sciences, the Biomedical Sciences (Anatomy, Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Physiology), Genetics, Psychology, Biology and the plethora of specialisms such as Microbiology, Environmental Sciences and Marine Biology. There is a flourishing Medics and Vets Society at the college to guide and encourage students with these interests. It should also be remembered that the skills obtained in biology-related degree courses are highly valued in a wide variety of workplaces (Law, Politics and the City spring to mind). Most of the major world challenges of the present century have a biological basis so there will always be a requirement for good A level biologists in these and many other fields.
The SNAB Course
The AS course covers the core topics of cell Biology, Biochemistry, Enzymes, basic Ecology, Genetics and Human Physiology of the heart, lungs and circulation. Innovative laboratory and on-line activities complement carefully devised teaching programmes to ensure motivation and learning are sustained throughout the course.
Coursework at AS consists of a Visit or Issue Report, which is internally assessed.
The A2 (2nd year of A-level) course includes the core topics of Ecology, Respiration, Forensic Science, Immunity, Photosynthesis, Evolution and the Human Physiology of Homeostasis, Digestion and the Nervous System, including some elementary Psychology. The examinations at the end of the second year comprise of four unit papers (two of 75 minutes and two of 90 minutes). There is also an element of coursework in the form of an individual investigation.
The OCR Course
The AS course covered in 6.1 consists of two theory units which are assessed at the end of 6.2 by two written exams taking 1 hour and 1 hour 45 mins (worth 15% and 25% respectively). Topic studied are: Cells (including structure, diversity and organization); Biological Molecules (including nucleic acids and enzymes); Food & Health; Biodiversity; Classification & Evolution; and Conservation Biology.
We start teaching the A2 section of the course at the end of 6.1 and it is assessed in a similar manner, although the two written papers are longer – 1 hour 15 minutes (15%) and 2 hours (25%) – to reflect the more demanding nature of the A2 topics. Topics studied are: Communication, Homeostasis and Energy (including the biochemistry of Photosynthesis and Respiration); Cellular Control & Variation; Biotechnology and Gene Technologies; Ecosystems & Sustainability; and Plant & Animal Responses to the Environment.
Throughout the course great emphasis is placed on Biology being a practical subject, and relevant practical work is carried out as the course progresses. Each of the two practical tasks is worth 10% and they are completed in lesson time, avoiding the need for lengthy report writing. The A2 practical tasks are completed as an integral part of the Biology Field Course.