Strategies for change

8th September 2000 at 01:00
Biology is one of the most exciting, dynamic and volatile of the science specialisms, with topics such as cell biology, medicine and genetics appearing every day as issues in the press and on television. Add to this the rapid pace of change in the post-16 biology curriculum and publishers of supporting texts face a difficult challenge, compounded by the failure of exam boards to agree which parts of biology should be in AS and which in A2 (see table opposite) and by the need to support key skills acquisition and assessment.

There are two broad strategies publishers can adopt:

* continue to produce comprehensive, generic textbooks, to cover the whole of AS and A2 across all exam boards, either from scratch or by issuing new editions of older texts. In this case, publishers are careful to map how they cover the specifications, either on CD-Rom or on their websites or on both;

* produce specific textbooks, aimed at AS level for a particular board, either as individual books for each AS Module or as one covering all sections. With the exception of the two AQA B books, all books published in this category are one-offs, linked to particular examination boards: many examiners are authors. In this instance, specification mapping is not needed. A2 books are mostly to follow during 20002001.


* Advanced Biology. By Michael Roberts, Michael Reiss and Grace Monger. Nelson pound;25.99

An updated successor to the ground-breaking Biology: A Functional Approach and Biology: Principles and Processes by the same authors. Sections containing materials about health and disease and biotechnology have been flagged.

New Understanding Biology for Advanced Level By Glenn Toole andSusan TooleStanley Thornes pound;26 Another new edition of a popular A-level textbook with new chapters on human health and disease and food, diet and health and a useful glossary of common biological terms. There is also a new Course Study Guide for students (pound;8 on its own, pound;4 when bought with the main text). Apart from useful sections on practical coursework, support for key skills and tips for exam preparation, the bulk of the guide is made up of key diagrams from the textbook for insertion in students' notes.

* Advanced Biology. By Michael Kent. Oxford University Press pound;25

The first of the new generic texts, and the first to be designed in double-page spreads. Each opens with a few concise objectives and ends with quick check questions and food for thought, a question drawing on analytical skills. This is an attractive, elegant book, well-illustrated with careful diagrams and clearly cross-referenced between spreads.

A free CD-Rom comes with the book, matching it with draft specifications for all boards. The match to final specifications will appear on the OUP website and, I hope, on a CD-Rom compatible with PCs and Macs.

* Introduction to Advanced Biology. By C J Clegg. John Murray pound;25

This new book appears to have started life as a sister publication to those for physics and chemistry, which are pitched at AS with A2 texts to follow, but in the case of biology it has been extended to cover A2 level as well. It is laid out in a more conventional style than Kent's book but benefits from being written directly for the new specifications. The text is clear and uncluttered and the illustrations are to a high standard. There are a number of features encouraging interactive learning. The specification map within the book is basic but a CD-Rom provides more detail against the (draft) specifications.

* Forthcoming publications include generic combined ASA2 texts, a revision of Advanced Biology: Principles and Applications by C J Clegg and DG McKean from John Murray, and a new text, Advanced Biology for You by Gareth Williams from Stanley Thornes, due in September. The option of separate generic AS and A2 texts (rejected by John Murray) is still being pursued by Longman, with a new AS text planned for early in 2001, followed by their generic A2 book at a later date.


* Biology AS. By Mike Bailey and Keith Hirst. Collins Advanced Modular Sciences, pound;17.99

This text is derived directly from the CAMS Biology Core book published first in 1995, but extensively revised to match the new specifications. It is divided into three main sections matching the three modules in the specifications and is an improvement on the original, not least because of the inclusion of past AQA-B questions. Each of the 13 chapters closes with a key skills assignment.


* Specification B. By Chris Lea, Pauline Lowrie and Siobhan McGuigan. Heinemann pound;15.99

This new book enters into the spirit of AS. It is divided into three modules, matching the specifications. Each module is then split into units which are laid out more simply as double page spreads, each dealing with one key concept. These are stand alone, without cross-referencing to other spreads, although there are concept maps for each module. There is a considerable element of interactivity built into each spread. Examination-style questions are placed at the end of each unit - these were written by the authors, without recourse to past questions from the examination board.


* Molecules and Cells By John Adds, Erica Larkcom and Ruth Miller. Nelson pound;10.99.

* Exchange and Transport, Energy and Ecosystems. By J Adds, E Larkcome and R Miller. Nelson Advanced Science, pound;12.99.

* Tools, Techniques and Assessment in Biology: A Course Guide for Students and Teachers. By John Adds, Erica Larkcom, Ruth Miller and Robin Sutton. Nelson Advanced Science, pound;12.99

The first two books offer comprehensive coverage of everything in the Edexcel AS modules. They appear somewhat old fashioned, with long runs of dense text and much less encouragement to interact with the text than the AQA-B book. The Course Guide should have a much wider use for candidates of other boards tackling coursework, investigations and practical work. Among other things, it covers tools and techniques of practical work in the laboratory and the field and a thorough consideration of statistical tests that are fast becoming a mandatory part of assessment at A2 level.


* Biology 1. By Mary Jones, Richard Fosbery, and Dennis Taylor. Cambridge Advanced Sciences, pound;12.95

This covers the content of all of the AS modules as specified by OCR. As with the Edexcel texts, some pages are made up of extensive text, relieved with few diagrams and photographs, although the text is broken up by points to note and self assessment questions.

* Application of Genetics. By Jennifer Gregory. Cambridge Advanced Sciences pound;8.95. Cambridge University Press

This is the first of five books to cover each of the OCR options studied at A2. It provides comprehensive coverage of the module but, again, there are extensive tracts of unbroken text, punctuated by self-assessment questions.

With a number of new texts for both AS and A2 on the way, heads of biologyshould be cautious when purchasing against tight budgets. Note that buying separate books for AS and A2, plus an option, will work out more expensive than a good generic ASA2 text. A new range of resource packs, student course books, etc, is also imminent. The best advice is to make sure you have registered your department with each publisher and pull in the evaluation copies.

Watch this space; by January a much clearer picture will have emerged.

Nigel Collins is head of biology at King Charles I School, Kidderminster and editor of Catalyst, GCSE Science Review



1. Core

2. Genes and genetic engineering

3.Physiology and transport



1. Molecules and Cells

2. Exchange, transport and reproduction

3 Energy and the environment



1. Foundation

2. Human health and disease

3. Transport

Coursework and practical examination

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