Biology is a popular subject at St. Mary’s. We provide a stimulating environment in which students can study a wide breadth of biological phenomena and we employ a variety of modern and traditional teaching approaches. There are extensive opportunities for ‘hands on’ practical work, together with ICT and stimulating reference materials, which are used to help nurture a scientifically inquisitive mind.

We aim to challenge all of our students to achieve their best and have forged close links with learned societies such as The Society of Biology, The Linnean Society of London and The Galton Institute.

The aims of the Biology Department are to:

  • inspire students’ interest in and enjoyment of the study of biological sciences
  • equip students with the skills they need to study biology at a higher level
  • enable students to acquire knowledge and understanding of  biological concepts and apply this to explain unfamiliar phenomena and information
  • develop the ability to select and use information from a variety of sources, to form hypotheses, predict outcomes and to solve problems
  • develop the ability to collect, present and interpret experimental and empirical data
  • develop the ability to communicate, in a variety of forms, scientific ideas and arguments logically and concisely
  • enable students to recognise and evaluate some of the social, environmental and economic effects, and political, ideological and ethical implications of the applications of biological science

We believe strongly in enriching the curriculum beyond normal classroom activities. From Year 7, students are encouraged to undertake Crest Awards in Science Club and we organise different field trips relevant to each Key Stage. In the past, these have included trips to Wales and the Lake District and even as far afield as Cuba! Students are also encouraged to enter the Biology Challenge in Years 9 and 10 and the Biology Olympiad in Sixth Form.

Lower School

Biology, like all the sciences at St. Mary’s College, is taught as a discrete subject for one double lesson (70 min) each week. We place great emphasis on the development of practical skills and critical thinking, but we still believe strongly in the merits of teaching knowledge and understanding, which remains the main focus of our lessons and assessments.

Pupils are challenged to achieve in Biology from the very beginning and our Year 7 Scheme of Work includes topics such as Genetics and DNA Technology, which excites and inspires our younger students through cutting edge scientific developments.  Pupils also learn the fundamental principles of Human Biology, Microbiology, Ecology and Bioenergetics during their Key Stage 3 years, progressing to GCSE level content in Year 9.


At Key Stage 4, many pupils opt to study the separate sciences, leading to three GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. For those who choose to study Combined Science, the Biology content is taught by subject specialists and covers around two-thirds of the standalone GCSE Biology syllabus.

Biology is taught for two double periods per week by subject specialists. Assessment is in the form of two written exams at the end of Year 11 and many practical investigations (including 10 ‘Required Practicals’) are embedded in the taught curriculum.

Examination and Assessment Arrangements:

PaperContentWhen TakenAssessment% of GCSE Marks
Paper 1Units 1-4Summer Y111 hour 45 min exam50%
Paper 2Units 4-7Summer Y111 hour 45 min exam50%
A Level

Biology is one of the most popular A Level subjects here at St. Mary’s and many students choose to study it at A Level every year. Many of these go on to read a ‘biological’ degree at university.

The atmosphere within the department is friendly and relaxed but students are expected to make a serious commitment to Biology and are encouraged to read widely to broaden their knowledge of a fascinating subject.

We have a weekly subscription to ‘Nature’, the most highly respected of all scientific journals and it is also available online. This enables students to develop the independent learning skills which are so vital at university.

Nature of the course

Students follow the AQA A Level Biology course, which divided into 8 modules:

  1. Biological molecules – studies the common chemistry shared by all life on earth. This unit studies carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids along with ATP and water.
  2. Cells – looks at similarities and differences between different cell types, the structure of the cell membrane and movement of substances in and out of cells, the processes involved in producing new cells and interactions between cells in the immune system.
  3. Organisms exchange substances with their environment – looks at the exchange surfaces in different organisms, digestion in mammals, the role of tissue fluid and mass transport in meeting the needs of cells.
  4. Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms – combines studying DNA as the genetic material with the process of protein synthesis, factors affecting genetic diversity in populations and the process and importance of meiosis, biodiversity and classification.
  5. Energy transfers in and between organisms – studies the biochemistry of photosynthesis and respiration and the efficiency of transfers between living organisms.
  6. Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments – looks at the role of specific growth factors in controlling response in plants, the structures of receptors and how the nervous system enables animals to respond to their environment including control of muscle contraction.  Mechanisms of homeostasis are studied including control of blood glucose and water.
  7. Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems – this unit covers patterns of inheritance of one and two genes including use of the chi squared statistic, gene pools and allele frequencies and the Hardy-Weinberg principle, and how evolution may lead to the production of new species. The factors affecting the sizes of populations including abiotic and biotic factors are also studied.
  8. The control of gene expression – looks at the effect of mutation on the production of a polypeptide, and how gene expression is controlled by the regulation of transcription and translation, including the role of tumour suppressor and oncogenes in the development of cancer. The uses and potential of advances in genetic techniques and knowledge including recombinant DNA technology, genome and proteome databases and genetic screening are considered.

Assessment is by three written examinations in May / June of the Upper Sixth