Biology Competitions

Society of Biology

A Brief History


An invitation to join the International Olympiad movement was extended to the British Government in 1994. The Association for Science Education and the then Institute of Biology (IOB) were approached. Members of the Institute's then Education Committee rose to the challenge. In 1995, the British Biology Olympiad (BBO) Committee was established and Sir Walter Bodmer accepted the post of BBO President. Norma Broadbridge became the UK's first National Biology Olympiad Coordinator and chaired the BBO Committee.

The first BBO competition for schools affiliated to the IOB took place in 1995. It attracted entries from fifty schools and colleges.

The second BBO competition was advertised to schools and colleges nationwide in 1996. By 1997, entries exceeded four hundred students and the competition was extended to include a practical test at the University of Birmingham for the top scorers in the theory test. An Award Ceremony was held at The Royal Society.

In 1998, the BBO competition was used to select a team to enter the International Biology Olympiad (IBO). The four students gained a gold, two silver and a bronze, the highest ever first time result. The team was asked to attend a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

Entries reached one thousand in 1999. Professor Susan Greenfield assumed the BBO Presidency, which she held until 2002. The IBO team selected from these one thousand students gained two silver and two bronze medals in Sweden.

Entries continued to rise over the next few years, reaching 1500 by 2004. Lord Robert Winston became President in 2003 and held the office for 3 years. In 2006, Professor Colin Blakemore assumed the Presidency and was followed by Professor Steve Jones in 2009.

In 2008, forty schools took part in the pilot of a competition for younger students organised by Dr Andrew Treharne, a school teacher. This new competition, Biology Challenge, was launched nationally in 2009. Since then, participation has increased to 40000 students.

 In 2010, the first Special Interest Group of the newly formed Society of Biology was set up to run the BBO and Biology Challenge competitions. UK Biology Competitions (UKBC) was chaired by Dr Andrew Treharne who had recently taken on the role of BBO Chair from Norma Broadbridge.

Until 2011, the BBO first round papers were marked by hand or using optical-mark-recognition technology and each school was limited to ten entries. An exam system developed for Biology Challenge was then used to move the BBO online in 2011. The limit was removed and almost 3000 students entered. Today, participation now exceeds 7500 students.

In 2015, a new competition for first year A level students was piloted, the Intermediate Biology Olympiad. The competition was launched nationally in 2016 with now more than 5500 students taking part. 

Since 1998, the UK has sent a team of four students to compete at the IBO. The number of countries competing at the IBO each year has risen during that time from 25 to up to 70.