Why are individuals different? Can plants save the world from global warming? How can we feed the world? Should we genetically engineer organisms to be more like our “perfect” requirements? Will medicine be able to make us live forever? Biology is the study of living things, both those alive today and those we know about from fossils. It includes human biology but goes well beyond this, covering ecology, plant biology and microbiology.
We aim to encourage an inquisitive and practical approach to the subject. We are a department that values inquiry over mere information and encourage creative thought. In Biology lessons the minimum expectation is that students will get things wrong – to try and fail is to model the world’s leading scientists! As long as we learn from our mistakes, the effort is not wasted.
We hope that through the study of Biology we can open the girls’ eyes to the wonder of the living world from sub-cellular organelles through to whole ecosystems and the human impact on the environment.
A wide range of activities are used to make the subject as practical, engaging and challenging as possible from Key Stage 3 through to Key Stage 5. Practical work forms the backbone of class activities wherever possible in order to develop analysis and interpretation skills as well as helping the girls to challenge their understanding of the biological concepts learnt. The emphasis in Biology lessons is to give the girls an opportunity to work things out for themselves to help them to gain a deeper understanding rather than just learning facts. We are keen for students to develop their core knowledge and improve their long-term memory, so regular retrieval practice is embedded into lessons. Feedback is a powerful way for students to improve their understanding and in every lesson, students will receive feedback in a variety of form. All students are expected to aim to be the best Biologist they can and if required, support is always available.
Curriculum and Assessment Maps
The Department is staffed with experienced subject experts drawn from a wide range of experiences within Biology. Our current staff are:
- Dr A Bailey (Head of Biology)
- Mrs M Begum
- Mrs T Kirby
- Miss E Lock (Year 8 Pastoral Leader)
- Mrs H Flora
- Mr M Ghaffoor (Biology Technician)
Key Stage 3
In Year 7 and 8 pupils have one Biology lesson each week (50 min).
The Year 7 and Year 8 curriculum follows the National Curricilum and is developed using the Best Evidence in Science Teaching (BEST) resources from The University of York. Both years follow a progression through “Key Concepts”, including Cells, Transport, DNA, Health and Ecology.
Throughout KS3, each Key Concept ends with an assessment, data from which is used in reviews. Practical activities are monitored and feedback given. In addition, home learning and class work is assessed and contribute to our growing picture of each student’s current effort and achievement. From all these aspects of assessment the girls receive feedback about how to improve and how they might stretch themselves further in Biology.
From Year 9 students begin their GCSE studies following the AQA 8461 specification. Students have one double lesson (2 x 50 min) per week.
Key Stage 4
All girls take single subject Biology at GCSE following the AQA specification 8461.
Years 10 and 11 continue to study the new GCSE AQA 8461 specification, which they started in Year 9. This is a ‘new’ style GCSE which is assessed through two written papers both taken at the end of Year 11.
An emphasis on Practical skills is made through 10 required practical investigations which are carried out during the course and these are assessed within the written papers.
End of topic assessments, along with assessment of the work set in class and for home learning provide the girls with feedback on their progress throughout the course.
Post 16 (A Level)
We follow the AQA A Level Biology specification 7402 which consists of 3 written papers at the end of Year 13. Students complete 12 required practical investigations, for which they have to meet 5 practical competencies. The knowledge, understanding and skills gained through these are assessed in their written papers.
Throughout the course the girls are assessed by both of their Biology teachers. Their contribution to class work and discussions is commented upon, feedback given and time designated to improving work. Practical skills are observed and outcomes monitored. Individual tasks such as topic assessments as well as mock exams also allow the girls and their teachers to be aware of current levels of attainment.
How can parents help?
- The Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park and the Botanic Gardens make a pleasant half-day out and will expand your daughter’s experience of the natural world.
- Growing things is fun! Even windowsill pots give girls the chance to experience the thrill of seeing a plant grow and thrive under their care.
- Keeping a pet is a great opportunity for your daughter to grow in understanding of life processes.
- Thinktank, Birmingham’s science museum has many exhibits related to Biology and its applications.
- There is lots of Biology on television: any of the Attenborough programmes, Channel 4’s Inside Nature’s Giants, some of the Horizon programmes.
- Radio 4’s “Material World” is great too – and available as a podcast!
- Encouraging your daughter to:
- Read the teacher comments and where relevant act on them.
- Reflect on assessments to enable them to identify how to improve.
- Make revision materials at the end of each topic
- Review their work frequently
- Use the text book to consolidate classroom learning and read ahead to be ready for new topics
- Explain their learning from lessons to you or their siblings
- Ask your teacher for a more detailed explanation
- Beyond the obvious but fiercely competitive medicine & dentistry there are the popular and still highly demanding courses like pharmacology, optometry and audiology.
- Biology has many aspects which can all provide degrees and job opportunities. Consider zoology, applied biology, sports science, agriculture, physiology, forestry, neuroscience, ecology, and marine biology. Then there are the many biochemical aspects – biochemistry, genetics, food scientists, pathology, histology, bio-physics, bio-engineering and the like.
- Many Biologists end up using their biological skills in their work, but many gain other positions in industry through their ability to interpret and communicate well and the literacy, numeracy and graphical skills developed whilst studying Biology.
Opportunities out of lessons
- The Gardening Club
- STEM Club for Years 7-9
- The Biology Challenge organised in Year 10 and Biology Olympiad for Sixth Formers
- Regular organised trips to see external speakers
- Society of Biology lectures at Birmingham University and Aston University Masterclasses
- Nuffield Bursary placements in Year 12
- Library Periodicals: Biological Sciences review, New Scientist magazine, BBC Focus magazine
- Library Books: The Blind Watchmaker, The Red Queen, Nature via Nurture, Bad Science and many others
- AQA GCSE Biology specification
- AQA A Level Biology specification
- For general biology revision try GCSE Bitesize, Biology Mad or the Khan Academy (US site but has excellent tutorials)
- The Society of Biology is the professional body for Biologists and they offer student membership
- The BBC Science or Nature websites are always worth a look! You could also try their news section.
- An extensive project about the diversity of life is here