Biology is the study of organisms and their interactions between each other and their environments. It ultimately provides us with an understanding of our bodies, food production and how life sustains itself.
Biologists learn not just the rapidly increasing knowledge base of life, but the methods by which we can experiment to learn more about organisms and ethical issues surrounding various aspects related to biology. The department aims to teach by experimentation, thus developing good practical and lateral thinking skills. This involves developing good communication, observational, research, predictive, statistical, analytical, evaluative, critical and planning skills.
“Biology – Without this department, I wouldn’t be at Oxford.”
Tanadet Pipatpolkai (W 2010-’13)
Biology is still seen as a core academic subject due to its complexity, detail, numerical and written skill base. As a Sixth Form subject, it is regarded as essential for entry into medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, physiotherapy, nursing and most aspects of biological science – biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, zoology, marine biology, genetics, cell biology, ecology – the list is endless. Current OGs are reading biologically related courses/health courses at UCL, Leeds, Peninsula, KCL, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Imperial and Cardiff.
The Biology department runs a very active enrichment programme for all year groups. In Years 9 and 10, all pupils take part in the national “I’m a Scientist/Engineer, Get me out of here” competitions, and the most gifted biologists enter the Biology Challenge.
As pupils move through Year 11 and into the Sixth Form, they are encouraged to attend the Hodgkin Society meetings. Named after Alan Hodgkin, OG and Nobel Prize Winner, the Hodgkin Society is a pupil-centred society, where pupils are encouraged to do presentations of whatever format they wish to enrich their peers’ understanding, interest and knowledge of biologically-related matters.
The department runs a field course around the North Norfolk Coast for all Sixth Form biologists. This focuses on zonation, succession, biodiversity, habitat management, adaptations and distribution. Habitats include dune land, saltmarsh, rocky shore, heathland and rivers. Our top A Level and IB students annually enter the national Biology Olympiad.
The Biology department at Gresham’s is part of the AMGEN Biotech Experience, in association with the John Innes Centre, Norwich. As part of this the school is loaned a variety of complex biotechnology kit and is able to run practical experiments with students in Years 10-13 on DNA profiling (including extraction of DNA and gel electrophoresis) and PCR (amplifying DNA for gel electrophoresis). These are advanced practical experiments that enhance the pupils’ understanding of genetic technology and it’s importance in society and give pupils an experience of practical genetics that many other schools are unable to offer.
Gresham’s now completes the Edexcel GCSE Biology course over a period of 3 years. Pupils in Year 9 begin the GCSE Biology programme by completing the first two of the required nine units of the GCSE programme, including core biological concepts which are regularly revisited throughout years 10 and 11. They begin to develop some of the skills that are essential for the GCSE course, including practical skills and the use of specific subject terminology. Pupils are all taught the material needed for the stand-alone Biology GCSE and will make a decision at the end of the year whether to continue with this or swap to a Combined Science GCSE.
Years 10 and 11
All pupils are given the choice to study biology as a standalone qualification (Edexcel GCSE) or as part of a Combined Science course (Edexcel GCSE Certificate) in conjunction with chemistry and physics. Both courses allow for the development of knowledge and practical skills and are assessed without coursework. Although the separate award course provides better support for studying AL/IB sciences, it is still possible to study AL/IB science after the Combined Science course.
Biology is offered at A level and both Higher and Standard Level for the IB Diploma. All courses build on previous learning, including a greater study into cells, biochemistry, genetics, evolution, physiology, behaviour and ecology. Significant practical investigative work is carried out on all courses and the major difference between them is how they are assessed.
IB – Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS)
Through studying environmental systems and societies (ESS) pupils will be provided with a coherent perspective of the interrelationships between environmental systems and societies; one that enables them to adopt an informed personal response to the wide range of pressing environmental issues that they will inevitably come to face.
Pupils will be able to study this course successfully with no specific previous knowledge of science or geography. However, as the course aims to foster an international perspective, awareness of local and global environmental concerns and an understanding of the scientific methods, a course that shares these aims would be good preparation. ESS is an interdisciplinary subject so allows flexibility within the IB programme and prepares students for any degree with ecological content and supports a degree leading to a Biological Science or for those who study Geography.
During the course, students will study eight different topics. An important aspect of the ESS course is hands-on work in the laboratory and/or out in the field.
The course covers the following areas:
- Foundations of ESS – Environmental value systems, sustainability and pollution
- Ecosystems and ecology – Species, populations, biomes, zonation and ecosystems
- Biodiversity and conservation – Origins, threats and conservation of biodiversity
- Water and aquatic food production systems and societies – Access to fresh water, aquatic food production systems and water pollution
- Soil systems and terrestrial food production systems and societies – soil, farming systems, soil degradation and conservation
- Atmospheric systems and societies – the atmosphere, stratospheric ozone, photochemical smog, and acid deposition
- Climate change and energy production – Energy choice, energy security and climate change
- Human systems and resource use – Population dynamics, resource use, solid domestic waste and human carrying capacity