Aim: To use external KS5 competitions to develop higher-order skills and raise the subject profile.
Background: The participation of BGS students in the Biology, Chemistry and Physics Olympiad competitions began on a small scale prior to this project as part of a wider initiative to increase enrichment for Key Stage 5 Sciences.
Year 1: The focus was to raise awareness of the competitions before and after their completion and to put in place activities for Year 11-12 that would start a ‘culture of participation’. Events were promoted via posters, online messages, lesson discussions and school newsletters. Year 12 Biology students were made aware of various competitions offered by external companies such as the Science Essay Challenge (Royal College of Science Union), Women in Physiology Poster Competition (Physiology Society) and the British Ecological Society Photo Competition. 11 students participated in the pilot for the intermediate Biology competition. To include Year 11s in the ‘culture of participation’ challenge, questions were displayed around the school with prizes for the most completed.
Year 2: More competitions were added to the repertoire, e.g. practical Chemistry challenges at Greenwich University and Queen Mary, and for Biology ‘The Ode to Physiology’ writing competition. Time was allocated after school for staff to work with Year 13 students in preparation for the Olympiads, which covered concepts beyond the A Level and IB syllabuses. Where topics had been covered in one syllabus but not the other, the students taught each other. The competition ‘Darwinner takes it all’ was organised by Year 12 students for teams of Year 10s during the school’s enrichment week in June.
Year 3: Where possible the participation results from Year 12 competitions were used as a basis for selecting participants for Year 13 Olympiads. Chemistry made particularly good use of Google Classroom to post resources, discuss ideas and example questions.
Evidence: Student feedback, participation and competition results.
Impact: Promotion of competitions made these feel less elitist and student surveys did show a small increase in awareness. All of the subjects now have a Year 12 competition that students can participate in and the Year 10 summer competition was well received by students. However, it could not be concluded that attainment in these competitions had increased. The limited participation numbers and variation in student aptitude each year created a barrier for assessing this fairly. A balance was needed between preparing the students for competitions and teaching them concepts out of context, although they really enjoyed new topics.
The Biology students participating said they preferred a general overview so that they knew what the general concepts related to, and could make some educated guesses rather than having to revise complex and additional material. The students involved were also those belonging to other groups – medicine and veterinary preparation groups (e.g. BMAT test prep) and had positions of responsibility (such as prefects). This led to a strain on their time and commitment to a series of preparation events was not feasible.
Reflections: Overall the competitions are much more embedded and valued and we will continue with our work on promotion, preparation and generating a culture of participation and celebration. It was naive, however, to think that we would be able to increase participation or attainment significantly.
Contact: Claire Earl, Lead Teacher of Biology, firstname.lastname@example.org