Biology is the study of living organisms, divided into specialised fields of morphology, physiology, anatomy, behaviour, and distribution. Students study each area in varying degrees through each key stage. Successful learners of Biology must be able to make links between the different specialisms to truly understand the complexities of life.
Our curriculum follows the aims of the National Curriculum; ‘develop a deeper understanding of a range of scientific ideas in the subject disciplines of biology’. Also, ‘students are encouraged to relate scientific explanations to phenomena in the world around them and start to use modelling and abstract ideas to develop and evaluate explanations.’ (National curriculum in England, 2014 DfE). The purpose of the KS3 curriculum is to develop practical skills and increase knowledge of the living processes. For many of the students coming into the school, this is their first opportunity to work within a laboratory environment, so the KS3 curriculum has been designed to introduce concepts gradually, and to show students how to use different equipment. Our intent for this coming year is to increase the practical availability to students, as KS3 were the ones most affected by the restrictions. We intend to run a STEM club for KS3 students in the coming year.
At all key stages, the intent of our curriculum is to instill passion and enjoyment in Biology, and this is achieved by having teachers who are passionate about their specialism. Our students gain more than the knowledge of the National curriculum. We teach new emerging technologies and encourage students to be critical of new Scientific ideas as they emerge. An example of this is where we discuss clinical trials and how the new Covid vaccines came to public use so quickly, or how new measures are being introduced to tackle climate change and extinction. We hope our students finish their Biology curriculum with an appreciation of all living systems and are able to be analytical of new emerging Biological techniques.
By the end of KS3 they are able to develop their own analytical skills by planning and evaluating their own experiments. Exam skills are also introduced at KS3 through regular assessments using foundation level GCSE questions. Biology at KS3 is challenging and has already introduced GCSE topics, so the students are already very familiar with the content and exam style.
At KS4, teachers follow the objectives dictated by the exam boards, but how the teachers deliver the content is flexible. The KS4 curriculum requires more specialist vocabulary which is developed over the two-year course. Practical skills are honed through the core practicals that are requirements of the course.
As already mentioned, our KS4 curriculum goes beyond the demands of the Edexcel specification. There are many opportunities to understand in greater detail how Biology impacts their day to day existence. For example the disease topic generates many discussions about drug trials, infectious diseases and what it really means to be healthy. We discuss mental and social health here as well. The aim of KS4 is to prepare students for the external exams they will sit, but to also develop a passion for Biology, STEM careers, and to think critically.
Again, the KS5 curriculum is flexible in that teachers will cover all specification points, but how they do this is up to them. Our specialist Biology teachers have a range of experience, and so are able to deliver challenging lessons to our highly capable students. There is the expectation that students will work independently in their study time to help them understand the complexities of Biology, rather than regurgitating facts. KS5 gives us even more scope to discuss new emerging technologies, and go into greater detail than we can at previous key stages. Students are encouraged to research Biology in the news to produce display boards, as well as research influential scientists from a variety of backgrounds to better understand how our scientific understanding has been shaped.
Guidance is given to students at the end of KS3 to help them make decisions as to whether to study combined or triple award science. Progression onto the A-Level course requires at least a grade 7 in combined or triple science.
The students will study the content from published specifications and the National Curriculum, but they must also be able to apply mathematical skills fluently to handle and manipulate data. Students must also be able to apply their chemistry and physics knowledge throughout.
There are certain principles that are essential to a successful Biology learner, these are:
- To learn from experience rather than passively listening. Where possible, practical investigations are carried out to prove phenomena. We have trained technicians to help us develop investigations, but also use guidance from CLEAPS, SAPs, and the Nuffield foundation. All investigations are assessed for health and safety.
- To be curious and ask questions; students are encouraged to ask ‘Why and How?’ when met with new material.
- Knowledge should be transferred to the long-term memory through practice and repetition; content is therefore revisited often. Content is either covered directly (aim of lesson) or indirectly (building upon previous content).
- All our students are unique, and so lessons are adapted to meet the needs of all the students.
- Summative and formative assessments are implemented consistent with the school’s policy.
Intrinsic cognitive load is managed by designing a curriculum and sequence of study that ensures students master the fundamental basics before moving to complex theories.
Across all key stages, Biology learners will:
- Be assessed every 6 lessons
- Two thirds of their assessments will be marked by the teacher, one third can be peer marked.
- Graded following the 9-1 systems for KS3- KS4. There is a smooth transition between the key stages for students.
- Graded following the A*-E system at KS5.
- Be given constructive feedback on assessments and practical tasks; they are able to identify weak areas and make improvements or adjustments to their work.
- Have homework set in line with the school’s homework policy; this homework supports and challenges the students. Homework will be set using google classrooms. Homework ranges from tasks including: research activities, Seneca tasks, worksheets and solving mathematical problems.
- Carry out practical investigations and present information scientifically.
- Gain a depth of understanding, rather than simply regurgitating facts.
Cells, organ systems, ecosystems, plants, health, disease, and genetics. Students will have 6 lessons a fortnight at KS3, and in these they will be taught all three sciences. Biology will not be taught by specialists in some cases.
The KS3 curriculum has been designed by the subject leads for each of the sciences. It is a challenging curriculum that follows the National Curriculum for KS3, but also extends into the GCSE curriculum. “Measurement of force exerted by different muscles” from the NC has been included in the Physics topics of moments in year 9 as it fits better with their established scheme of work.
The sequence that topics across all three science disciplines are taught varies for each group, this is to ease the workload of technicians and avoid all groups doing the same practical activity at the same time. The sequence of lessons within each topic has been organised to allow progression through the topic and to build on knowledge.
Cells are taught first to all year 7s as it is the most accessible and familiar topic to them and allows clear progression. There are simple practicals involving microscopes, and simple mathematics. Organ systems are taught after that as it builds upon the knowledge of cells working together. Year 8 starts with ecosystems because this topic involves sampling activities outside, which we need the better weather for. There is no detriment to studying ecosystems before plants, as all essential plant knowledge is taught within the module. In year 9 we approach disease and genetic topics, which once again require recall of previous knowledge of cells and organ systems. The KS3 curriculum encourages retrieval processes. Our KS3 curriculum for Biology goes beyond the expectations of the National Curriculum. We go into greater depth than would normally be expected, and a greater scope is covered. This makes our students have to think harder about the sophisticated content, thus preparing them for a life of scientific study.
Content taught at Key Stage 4 is split into year 10 and year 11. In year 10, students will complete the modules for Edexcel Paper 1 of their external exams:
- Introductory topic Key skills
- Topic 1 Key concepts
- Topic 2 Cells and control
- Topic 3 Genetics
- Topic 4 Natural selection
- Topic 5 Disease
- Topic 9 Ecosystems
More topics are covered in year 10 as we have 7 terms with 5 hours a fortnight. Topic 9 is taught in the summer term as sampling activity of plants is a required practical, so is dependent on the finer weather. We introduce an additional topic and the start of the course ‘practical skills’ so students can practice how to draw graphs and tables, identify variables, and select appropriate equipment. We introduced this and this was shown to be lacking in students’ knowledge.
In year 11 students learn the content for Edexcel Paper 2
- Topic 6 Plants
- Topic 7 Animal coordination
- Topic 8 Exchange and transport.
We are slightly behind compared to previous years. We tend to finish the course in March, giving a term to revise. This means we will have to spend less time on revision to complete the course. There are however intervention sessions that students can attend to aid their revision. We are awaiting confirmation from the exam boards as to whether some content will be removed from the exams, which will influence our later planning. We shall also be offering 1:1 sessions between students who have fallen behind and Biology prefects in year 12 and 13.
Edexcel has been chosen as our exam board because it offers a breadth and depth across a range of Biological disciplines.
There are currently 5 lessons of triple Biology in year 10 and 4 lessons in year 11. There are 3 lessons a fortnight for combined students in both year 10 and year 11. Both combined and triple students will usually finish the course by March, and then have roughly a term to revise. As well as covering the content, triple students have 8 core practicals, including: Microscopy, enzymes, osmosis, qualitative food tests, microbiology, photosynthesis, rates of respiration, and fieldwork activities. Combined students complete all but the food tests and microbiology. The purpose of these practicals is to develop the skills necessary to be a scientist. Students will write hypotheses and methods, record results in tables and graphs, and conclude and evaluate their results.
Content is covered in lessons that requires students to constantly be retrieving information from their long-term memories through interleaving retrieval practice. There are many synoptic elements for students to focus on and demonstrate understanding. Application questions from a variety of exam boards are used, and by the end of the course, most students are answering AO2 and AO3 questions confidently.
At KS4, students have textbooks and workbooks available in class to them, and an interactive text book available on Active Learn which they can access through their Chromebooks. All previous exam papers are put on Google Classroom for ease of access. Intervention is also provided to students every other week. A multiple choice style assessment is used to allow students to see their progress. It encourages them to regularly revisit content in order to forgo the problem of forgetting information. Year 10 students all take part in the Biology challenge, which is a chance for students to demonstrate their skills in Biology.
To progress onto the A-Level course, students must secure a grade 7 at GCSE. Content at KS5 follows the OCR A Biology specification. This specification includes aspects of human and plant biology, in depth studies of ecosystems and populations, and genetics and genetic techniques are taught in detail . This gives students the opportunity to study new emerging techniques which is why it has been chosen as our exam board. . There are also 12 practicals that students will carry out over the course that are internally assessed, students will either pass or fail their practical endorsement. Lesson time was used once we returned to school to catch up on practicals that were missed during home learning.
There are a range of different text books available in classrooms, and an online copy is provided through Pearson Active Learn.
The KS5 content is taught in this order:
- Year 1: Cells, DNA, membranes, cell division, organisation, biological molecules, enzymes, maths, exchange, transport in animals, communication, nervous system, respiration, muscles, hormones, excretion, biodiversity and ecosystems. We have fallen behind due to using lesson time to complete practical activities. The course is normally completed by March, so there is sufficient time to complete the course fully.
- Year 2: Transport in plants, photosynthesis, classification, disease, biotechnology, inheritance, and manipulating genomes.
Similar topics have been grouped together so that students are better prepared for the synoptic element on the examinations. A route through has been carefully planned. There are many opportunities for the students to show off their talents as well. Our students take part in the Biology challenge and Intermediate Biology challenge. Various trips are also made available, most notably the annual trip to the Royal Institute in London where they sequence their own DNA using cutting edge technologies. This not only helps them understand a rather challenging topic in the specification, but also gives them work experience and meets the Gatsby benchmark 4.
There are no restrictions for SEND students to access the curriculum. Regular contact is made with the SEN department for support.
The curriculum is planned carefully to ensure that all students can access the learning. Students for example with medical needs who are unable to complete certain practical investigations are given assistance by the teacher or allowed to watch demonstrations instead. All different learning needs are met, and is a natural part of everyone’s lesson.
The language of Biology can be very demanding. It has a large, complex vocabulary. In some teaching rooms, there are displays with commonly used words for students to refer to. Literacy is assessed in all marking.
Literacy is improved through the answering of extended questions, which require students to practice writing prose. Word banks and help with connective phrases are provided to scaffold the learning. The most successful students are those who can apply the skills they’ve learnt in English or History to the extended writing in Biology.
We also promote literacy by encouraging further reading around the subject. We share journals and news articles, as well as recommending podcasts.
The success of our curriculum is demonstrated in the following ways:
- By the excellent results we achieve at GCSE, and by the numbers of students who choose to continue with Biology through to A-Level. Numbers show the year students sit their final exams
- 2023= 59
- Comparison of T6 data is as follows: (There is no valid data for T6 for 2021 cohort)
Group 2017 APS 2018 APS 2019 APS 2021 APS Y12 33 37 36 40 Combined Y10 4.8 4.1 5.12 4.59 Triple Y10 5.69 5.70 6.34 6.15
The APS for year 12 is particularly encouraging, but only examined one aspect of the course. The other two papers are markedly more challenging to achieve higher grades in due to the nature of language in them. The SOW allows time for thorough exam technique, including critical thinking and evaluations. Thinking critically is often where our students lose marks and this is an aspect we are especially focussing on this year to give a well rounded curriculum.
APS for GCSE classes shows we need to focus on some students, which will be detailed below.
- Opportunities for SMSC are fully embedded in the curriculum. Examples of this include: Religion and evolution, biological basis of sex determination, stem cell therapies.
- Students clearly enjoy taking Biology, our classes are full of enthusiastic and inquisitive students. Many of whom choose to take Biology (or something similar) at university or through apprenticeships. Students from the 2018 cohort, 15 went on to study a Biology related subject at university. These include 2 medics, 1 dentistry, 2 natural sciences, 2 for pharmacy, and the rest Biological sciences or Biomedicine. In 2019, even more students went into Biology related subjects with 8 going on to medicine and 2 onto veterinary studies. In 2020, 53% went on to study Biology related subjects at University, including 4 to study medicine.
- Personal development of students throughout their time studying Biology; the students develop resilience and the ability to work independently. The students are analytical and learn to question phenomena. They develop critical thinking skills through analysing conclusions and identifying fallacies of composition and division, which can be rife in scientific reporting. Students also get chances to tutor lower years and demonstrate Biological techniques at open evenings. Our A-Level prefects become fully immersed in the Biology department.
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Biology GCSE continues to be strong and shows great improvement, as does A-Level (which is close to the Academy performance target of 40). The department and the students have worked incredibly hard to gain such excellent results.
SEN students at GCSE particularly require more attention, and this will be done through 1:1 intervention.
PP students taking Triple are performing better than the whole cohort, whereas combined students are performing slightly below. Many have been entered onto online tutoring supplied through government programs.
Student progression from KS5 to Russell group studying related subject
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Student progression from KS5 to study Biology/related subject
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