Biology – the only science where multiplication and division mean the same thing.
In the Biology Department pupils are encouraged to develop an appreciation of and an interest in the living world around them and to recognise the importance and value of biology in today’s society. The courses followed at GCSE, A-level and in the Junior School therefore contain elements of “traditional” biology (such as anatomy, biochemistry, ecology and physiology) as well as more “modern” topics (including cloning, genetic engineering and the use of stem cells). There is a strong emphasis on learning by experimentation and pupils develop a variety of practical skills including using a microscope, techniques for sampling living organisms, biochemical analyses, growing microorganisms, etc. They are also encouraged to use IT and there are opportunities to do so in the lessons and in homework assignments.
In Years 7 and 8 pupils cover a variety of biological topics including cells, reproduction in animals and plants, the skeleton and movement, respiration, the lungs and effects of smoking and microorganisms. Students are introduced to the “scientific method” and are taught how to use standard laboratory equipment safely.
Pupils begin the IGCSE course in Year 9 and conclude it at Easter in Year 11. The Edexcel specification is followed and topics covered at IGCSE level include food chains and webs, the effects of humans on the environment, nerves, hormones, inheritance, genes and genetic engineering, evolution, photosynthesis, enzymes and respiration. Practical lessons include measuring the energy value of foods, looking at factors that influence the rate of enzyme-controlled reactions, learning techniques for sampling living organisms in the field and using microscopes to study cellular anatomy.
The subject is increasingly popular at AS and A2 level where the OCR specification is taught and an average of 75-80% of students pass the subject with an A or B grade every year. Throughout the Sixth Form pupils are encouraged to contribute actively to lessons, to explore ideas and concepts independently and to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the subject with wide reading outside the classroom. They also develop a wide variety of experimental skills. Many of the MVI pupils in the department leave school to read biological degree courses at university and three to six students per year receive places to read medicine.
Sixth Form students in the department run the Biomedical Society, which gives biology students the opportunity to learn about and discuss aspects of the subject they find particularly interesting. We have had a variety of guest speakers who have given presentations on topics such as keyhole surgery and medicine in the armed forces and many of the students themselves have given lectures on, for example, vivisection and the neurological benefits of music.
Students have the opportunity to take part in national biology competitions run by the Society of Biology. In Years 9 and 10 they can enter the National Biology Challenge and sixth-formers can enter the National Biology Olympiad. We have an impressive record in both of these competitions with some students achieving Gold Medal standards (putting them in the top 5% of the thousands of students who take part every year).
Pupils in Year 8 have a day out at Epping Forest Field Centre where they are introduced to various methods of sampling and identifying organisms and measuring their distribution.