S5 & S6 Biology

Higher Biology

The purpose of the Higher Biology course is to develop pupils’ interest and enthusiasm for biology in a range of contexts. The skills of scientific inquiry and investigation are developed, throughout the course, by investigating the applications of biology. This will enable pupils to become scientifically literate citizens and be able to review the science-based claims they will meet.

The course has three units that cover the following areas:

DNA and the Genome
This Unit covers the key areas of structure of DNA; replication of DNA; control of gene expression; cellular differentiation; the structure of the genome; mutations; evolution; genomic sequencing.

Metabolism and Survival
This Unit covers the key areas of metabolic pathways and their control; cellular respiration; metabolic rate; metabolism in conformers and regulators; metabolism and adverse conditions; environmental control of metabolism; genetic control of metabolism; ethical considerations in use of microorganisms, hazards and control of risks.

Sustainability and Interdependence
This Unit covers the key areas of food supply, plant growth and productivity; plant and animal breeding; crop protection; animal welfare; symbiosis; social behaviour; mass extinction and biodiversity.
Analytical thinking and problem solving skills will be developed contextually within these units.

Advanced Higher

The purpose of the course is to build on the knowledge, understanding and skills developed by pupils in Higher Biology, and to provide a useful bridge towards further study of biology.

The Advanced Higher Biology course is based on integrative ideas and unifying principles of modern biological science.  It covers key aspects of life science at the molecular scale and extends to aspects of the biology of whole organisms that are among the major driving forces of evolution.  In addition, the Advanced Higher Biology course aims to develop a sound theoretical understanding and practical experience of experimental investigative work in biological science.

The course provides pupils with the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the cell by studying the key roles of proteins within the cell.  This understanding of cellular processes is then related to physiological function.  At the whole-organism scale, the course explores how sexual reproduction and parasitism are major drivers of evolution.  This allows pupils to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanism of evolution, the biological consequences of sexual reproduction and the biological inter-relationships involved in parasitism.  Advanced Higher Biology provides a deeper understanding of laboratory and fieldwork techniques, and in carrying out a biological investigation pupils have the opportunity to produce an extended piece of scientific work. Throughout the course there are ample opportunities to develop a systems approach to the study of biological science, allowing pupils to integrate their learning and to develop an appreciation of the global dimension to life on Earth and the importance of understanding biological issues in our society.  Pupils will also develop their understanding of relevant applications of biology in society and a deeper understanding of the underlying themes of biology.

The course contains three units:

  • Cells and Proteins

This Unit builds on understanding of the genome from Higher Biology.  Pupils will develop knowledge and understanding of proteomics, protein structure, binding and conformational change; membrane proteins; detecting and amplifying a stimulus; communication within multi-cellular organism and protein control of cell division.  The study of protein is primarily a laboratory-based activity, so the Unit includes important laboratory techniques for biologists. 

  • Organisms and Evolution

This Unit builds on understanding of selection in the context of evolution and immune response from Higher Biology.  Pupils will develop knowledge and understanding of evolution; variation and sexual reproduction; sex and behaviour and parasitism.  It covers the role of sexual reproduction and parasitism in the evolution of organisms.

This Unit covers suitable techniques for ecological field study. Methods of sampling and the classification and identification of organisms are introduced. Evolution is considered from the impact of drift and selection on variation. The study of sexual behaviour provides opportunities to use the techniques of ethology. There are many opportunities to explore the systems approach required for the understanding of parasite biology. In addition, there are many opportunities to explore wider ethical issues relating to the importance of scientific knowledge and its application in challenging social and economic circumstances.

  • Investigative Biology 

This Unit builds on understanding of the scientific method from Higher Biology.  Pupils will develop knowledge and understanding of the principles and practice of investigative biology and its communication.  The Unit covers scientific principles and processes, experimentation and critical evaluation of biological research.

Pupils will do this through the key aspects of the scientific method, literature and communication and ethics; pilot studies, variables, experimental design, controls, sampling and ensuring reliability; evaluating background information, experimental design, data analysis and conclusions. 


The purpose of the project is to allow pupils to carry out an in-depth study of a biology topic.  The topic will be chosen by the pupil, who will individually investigate/research the underlying biology.  This is an open-ended task which may involve a significant part of the work being carried out without close supervision.  The pupil will extend and apply the skills of independent/autonomous working.  This includes making independent and rational decisions based on evidence and interpretation of scientific information, and the analysis and evaluation of their results.  This will further develop and enhance their scientific literacy.