United Kingdom - Operation Wallacea

United Kingdom

Enhanced understanding of syllabus

Many students going on an Operation Wallacea expedition are likely to be studying Biology or Geography at A level or the equivalent. A significant amount of what is being learnt at A level can be experienced first-hand whilst on an expedition and the Opwall office can show you which topics in each of the main examining boards for England and Wales (AQA, EdExcel Salters, OCR, WJEC), Northern Ireland (CCEA) and Scottish Highers (SQA) for Biology and Geography are covered in an Opwall expedition. Students will experience these topics when they become involved in collecting data, observing scientists at work and following a series of ‘activity’ lectures and an appropriate ecological course specific to each country.

One section of many courses requires the student to experience field sampling techniques such as those using transecting methods and quadrats. All of the research sites employ such methods and it is an ideal opportunity to experience these methods first-hand and really appreciate the importance of gathering such important data: it is genuinely an example of ‘How Science Works’.

Experience has shown that those studying other subjects also benefit greatly from the experience and you do not necessarily have to be a ‘scientist’ to go on an expedition. At many of the sites the students have the chance to practice foreign languages (e.g. Spanish, Portuguese, French).

Research qualifications and additional qualifications

Many schools are now offering their students the chance to submit further research qualifications such as the Extended Essay Qualification (EPQ) which is now available from an increasing number examining boards (AQA, OCR, Pre-U, WJEC etc).  These qualifications are worth up to 70 extra UCAS points and are designed to support students with their transition to higher education or into the world of work.

The are many similarities between the examination boards although and there are many options available to teachers and students but all involve an in-depth study by the student in which they will develop and apply skills creatively and result (for a Science student) in a dissertation or an Investigation.  Student must work independently and largely self-directed although most schools should provide 120 Guided Learning hours (edexcel).  The EPQ is assessed by producing a research report of 5,000 words and/or a presentation.

Going on an Opwall Expedition can be a great place to undertake such a venture although the dissertation style EPQ is better suited than an in depth personal investigation (see more about how this might work in the EPQ section)

An increasing number of schools are adopting the IB (International Baccalaureate) course and within this award are the Extended Essay (EE) and Creativity, Action and Service components (CAS).  Experience with other schools has shown that a student can contribute confidently towards these important components whilst taking part in an expedition.

Follow the links to EE and CAS for more detail on how it might work.

Also within the IB Award is the practical scheme of work (PSOW) which is the practical course planned by the science teacher and acts as a summary of all the investigations carried out by the candidate.  Students whilst on expedition will take part in practical work and these could contribute significantly towards their IB Internal Assessment for IB Biology.  The appropriate expedition booklet outlines the practicals that they will be involved with.

Quote from a teacher who took a group of students to South Africa with Operation Wallacea.

Perhaps the most important part of the IB course that is relevant to the Opwall trip is the Extended Essay which every IB student has to do – this is like a mini-dissertation and is a topic of the students own choosing – I have had some students doing their essays on topics from their trips – ‘The over population of elephants in Kruger National Park’ and ‘The impact of elephants on the habitat in Kruger’. Another student is doing something on manatee deaths (from the Cuba trip last summer). The essay must have a clear Biological research question and the best essays involve them carrying out some research or collecting some data as part of a bigger project like one of Opwall’s  biodiversity monitoring programmes: the data needs to be evaluated and interpreted and not simply restated.

Additional qualifications

There are additional research related qualifications that can be obtained partly or wholly by participating in an Opwall expedition and a few examples are given below. If you would like to do any of these additional qualifications then your school needs to organise a visit by an Opwall representative to go through the requirements of the various schemes before making a final decision.

Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) – Awarded by ASDAN

The CoPE certificate is awarded by ASDAN and tests 6 skills based on a number of challenges that students will meet whilst preparing for and going on an expedition. It is demanding and requires 150 hours of study and the production of a portfolio which is moderated by Opwall. It costs £85 (non- refundable) and is worth 70 UCAS points (an A grade at AS level). Note students wanting to do CoPE as part of their expedition must apply to Opwall by 20 December in the year preceding their expedition. A student either passes or fails and there are no in-between grades. The scheme is recognized by UCAS and some universities actively encourage the adoption of CoPE. CoPE may be unsuitable if the university you apply to offers grades as opposed to points. It is an important motivator for going on an expedition but does require significant support from the school tutor and Opwall. CoPE is also very useful when applying for a job and is well recognised and respected by employers.

More information can be found on the ASDAN website here.

Universities Award (UA) – Awarded by ASDAN

This uses similar criteria to CoPE but the award is given automatically to any student who completes an expedition. Opwall has a customized agreement with ASDAN that ensures that each student has followed a set of challenges. The award, which costs £25 per student is well recognized by UCAS and allows a student to demonstrate a range of personal skills.

More information can be found on the ASDAN website here.


University applications and interviews

One of the best uses of the expeditions is to enhance a student’s application for university entry. In the UK, every potential university student has to write a UCAS Personal Statement as part of the UCAS process and this is quite often followed up by a university entrance interview. Many students will be able to relate their experiences gained on the field research programme and working alongside academics and this will be something that makes them stand out from other similarly qualified students.

Elise Damstra, who came out with us in 2011 as part of a Sevenoaks school expedition to Madagascar, is a great proof of this. She won the Norwegian Young Scientist essay competition for her extended essay about the work that was done during her time there – the prize included £1000, an all expenses paid trip to Bratislava for the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, and a place at the Stockholm Youth Science Seminar that includes a seat at the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Northern Ireland

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland conduct their own curriculum and examinations – CCEA (Curriculum Examinations and Assessment)and they are the equivalent to A levels in England and Wales.  The content for Biology and Geography match well with many of the experiences gained by going on an expedition and are available on request.


The majority of Schools in Scotland will take the Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher examination which are the equivalent to the A levels taken in many parts of the UK.  These specifications have recently undergone a full revision and are now being implemented in Scottish schools. You can see how WRL links to the SQA Highers and Advanced Highers Biology course specification here.

Recent UK Opwall Educational Survey:

The main conclusions from our survey are that Opwall expeditions match really well with the new specifications (certainly better than the old ones) although teaching using ‘case studies’ is a dominant and novel feature of these new revised exams.  The ‘Case Study’ idea is a great opportunity for us especially when introducing the Wallace Resource Library (WRL) to teachers.  One of their case studies looks at the role of PCR and our Chytrid Fungus WRL dataset from Honduras would be perfect as I am certain many others will also be – going on an expedition would be even better!.

Dr RHC Poland, Senior Science and Education Advisor for Opwall: schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com 

Link to the Wallace Resource Library (WRL)