Biology at Ashbourne is an exciting and challenging subject. We offer our students an outstanding educational experience through a combination of high quality teaching, plenty of classroom practicals and a wide range of science excursions and visits. The A level Biology field trip, recently to the Portuguese Algarve coastline, is one of the main highlights of the course where students get to study native and introduced species and examine the human impact on the local environment. All data collected during the field trip is put towards their A level coursework.
Ashbourne also offers a Medical School Programme, that has been running for more than 30 years, designed to give students the best possible chance of entering a UK medical school.
Great advice from Ashbourne Biology students
“A levels are hard but the reward of getting the grades you want outweigh all of your hard work!” Read the Biology advice booklet
Why study A level Biology?
Biology is the study of life, from the single cell to the evolution and distribution of all living organisms – including you. You will begin to appreciate how the body works at a cellular level and how it copes with pressures like exams or disease.
You will discover how plants and animals respond to and interact with their surroundings, and examine the affects of environmental changes such as deforestation and climate on biodiversity and ecosystems around the world, and indeed what this means for all life on earth.
You will also need to consider ethical issues raised by advancements in science such as gene therapy and genetic engineering.
By exploring the complexities and wonders of nature you will find a whole world of employment awaits you in fields such as medicine, genetics, biochemistry, ecology, environmental science, agriculture, forensics, law, botany, veterinary medicine, sports training and therapy.
Biology is a highly respected subject and is considered by the Russell Group Universities as an excellent foundation for many of the courses they offer.
Which syllabus do we follow?
Ashbourne follows the OCR specification for A level and AS level Biology.
What is covered in the course?
There are six modules in this course. AS level students study modules 1–4 and A level students study all modules, outlined below.
You will learn how to plan and carry out practical experiments and analyse and evaluate the results.
All living organisms contain cells, each performing their own unique tasks from carrying oxygen around the body and defending against invading bacteria to sending messages, converting energy and making other cells. In this module you will examine, in microscopic detail, the structure, make up and function of cells in a variety of living organisms. Topics covered in this module are cell structure, biological molecules, nucleotides and nucleicacids, enzymes, biological membranes, cell division, cell diversity and cellular organisation.
Organisms harness the materials around them to grow and survive. Plants absorb water and minerals which they convert to energy or food. Animals, including humans, exchange gases to breathe. This module examines the structure and function of gas exchange and transport systems in animals and plants, and how exchange surface area affects the efficiency of these exchanges. Topics covered in this module are exchange surfaces, transport in animals and transport in plants.
This is your introduction to ecology: how do organisms interact with their environment? You will discover just how diverse organisms are, find out how they are classified, examine how they have evolved and what mechanisms they have developed to fight disease. You will also discuss the importance of protecting the natural environment in order to maintain biodiversity. The topics covered in this module are biodiversity, classification and evolution, communicable diseases, disease prevention and the immune system.
Plants and animals use internal chemical and electrical communication systems to respond to stimuli. Communication plays a vital role in homeostasis, which is how the body controls conditions like temperature and blood sugar level. For example, the pancreas releases the chemical insulin to control blood sugar levels. Topics in this module are communication and homeostasis, excretion as an example of homeostatic control, neuronal communication, hormonal communication, plant and animal responses, photosynthesis and respiration.
This is where you delve into controversial topics such as genetic engineering of super crops and manipulating DNA to produce clones, like Dolly the sheep, or de-extincting dinosaurs or using stem cells to prevent illness. You will also consider how clearing rainforests to farm animals, producing unsustainable amounts of waste and overuse of natural resources may bring about further conflict as they affect the balance of ecosystems that support an ever growing human population. Topics in this module are cellular control, patterns of inheritance, the manipulation of genomes, ecosystems, cloning and biotechnology, and populations and sustainability.
Who teaches this course?
MSc Climate Science and Policy (University of Bristol); BSc Biological Sciences (University of Warwick)
Philip is passionate about environmental issues and not only brings his research experience in this area but also in genetics and evolution, animal and plant biology, clinical microbiology and ecology.
BSc Psychology (University of Birmingham, UK)
Emily joined Ashbourne in 2017 to teach Psychology and Biology after completing her PGCE and attaining a first class degree in Psychology. She is particularly interested in biopsychology and its influence on psychopathology.
BSc Neuroscience (Kings College, London)
Amy is Head of Faculty for Natural Sciences and leads the Ashbourne Medical School Programme, providing expert guidance and support to students applying for highly competitive degree courses in Medicine and Dentistry. Amy was first motivated to share her love of science, particularly in human biology and immunology, with others during her studies in neuroscience and continues to inspire students to pursue their own passions. Amy is also Deputy Head of Sixth Form, responsible for ensuring students find the right career pathway, achieve their potential and secure a place at their chosen university. She joined Ashbourne in 2015.
BSc Biochemistry (Southampton University, UK)
Mark studied Biochemistry at Southampton University and later decided to pursue a career in teaching. He joined Ashbourne in 2016 and teaches A level Biology and GCSE Science.
Beyond A level Biology
Biology, as one of the traditional sciences, is a very well respected A level and opens the door to many courses and careers. It is an essential choice for students wishing to study medicine, pharmacology, dentistry and veterinary science but can also lead to degrees in biomedical science, natural sciences, environmental science, genetics and botany as well as areas of conservation and biodiversity.
Suggested reading and resources
Online and print publication covering news, opinion and interviews, produced by the Royal Society of Biology.
Online and print publication about all things science related.
Wide range of Science news, opinion and analysis which special focus sections on the brain and human body.
Wide range of Biology-related books reviewed by the Royal Society of Biology.
Writing by scientists
Richard Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book. The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution. Dawkins is an atheist and is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. He has written several popular science books and makes regular television and radio appearances, predominantly discussing these topics. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion —‘a fixed false belief’.
Sir Robert Winston is a professor, medical doctor, scientist, television presenter and politician. Winston joined Hammersmith Hospital as a registrar in 1970 and was a scientific advisor to the World Health Organisation’s programme in human reproduction from 1975 to 1977. After conducting research as Professor of Gynaecology at the University of Texas Health Science Centre at San Antonio in 1980, he returned to the UK, setting up the IVF service at Hammersmith Hospital which pioneered various improvements in this technology. As Professor of Fertility Studies at Hammersmith, Winston led the IVF team that pioneered pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which identifies defects in human embryos.
James Watson is an American molecular biologist, geneticist and zoologist, best known as one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953 with Francis Crick whom he met at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in England.
Matt Ridley was educated at Eton College from 1970–75 and then went on to Magdalen College of the University of Oxford and completed a BA degree with First Class Honours in zoology and then a DPhil degree in zoology in 1983. Ridley is best known for his writings on science, the environment, and economics. He has written several science books including Genome (1999).
Steven Pinker is a Canadian-born American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and popular science author. He is a Harvard College Professor and and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. In his popular books, he has argued that the human faculty for language is an instinct, an innate behaviour shaped by natural selection and adapted to our communication needs. He is the author of seven books for a general audience. Five of these, namely The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), Words and Rules (2000), The Blank Slate (2002), and The Stuff of Thought (2007).
Ben Goldacre is a best-selling author, broadcaster, campaigner, medical doctor and academic who specialises in unpicking the misuse of science and statistics by journalists, politicians, quacks, drug companies, and more. His first book Bad Science (4th Estate) has sold over 500,000 copies to date, is published in 18 countries, and reached number one in the UK non-fiction bestseller charts. Bad Pharma is on bad behaviour in the pharmaceutical industry and medicine more broadly: it is now a top ten UK best seller.
Brian Edward Cox, OBE is an English physicist, and professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. He is best known to the public as the presenter of science programmes, especially the Wonders of… series.
Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA is a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. His scientific works include a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation. Hawking was the first to set forth a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He is a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Jim Al-Khalili OBE is an Iraqi-born British theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey. He has hosted several BBC productions about science and is a frequent commentator about science in other British media. In 2014 Al-Khalili was named as a RISE (Recognising Inspirational Scientists and Engineers) leader by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Royal Society of Biology
The Royal Society acts as the ‘voice of biology’ in the UK advising government and informing policy, promoting science education and research, and representing its members. It produces a print and online publication called The Biologist full of news, views and reviews, and organises and promotes science events.
The Royal Institution
The Royal Institution has been at the heart of scientific research and education from more than two hundred years. It runs a wide range of science courses for all levels. It also produces the popular UK flagship science series called the Christmas Lectures, originally founded by Michael Faraday, which is broadcast annually and includes topics like how to survive in space, life fantastic, growing up in the universe and the language of animals.
The Royal Society
This is one of the oldest scientific academies in the world. It runs a variety of programmes to highlight and support science in education, industry, international partnership and government. It also publishes a wide range of science journals.