Biology Competitions

Society of Biology


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 Committee was established and Sir Walter Bodmer accepted the post of British Biology Olympiad President. Norma Broadbridge became the UK's first National Biology Olympiad Coordinator and chaired the BBO Committee.

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

The second British Biology Olympiad 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. 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 more than 35000 students each year.

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 MBE who had recently taken on the role of BBO Chair from Norma Broadbridge MBE.

Until 2011 the BBO first round papers were marked by hand or using OMR technology and each school was limited to ten entries. The first round took place online in 2011 using the exam system developed for Biology Challenge. The limit was removed and almost 3000 students entered. Participation now exceeds 7000 students each year.

In 2015 a new competition for first year A level students was piloted and more than 3500 students took part when the competition was launched nationally in 2016.

Since 1998 the UK has sent a team of four students to compete at the International Biology Olympiad (IBO). The number of countries competing at the IBO has risen during that time from 25 to 70.

UK Medal table

 *One team member was unable to attend the 2010 IBO in Korea due to illness.