Premature children should be treated as special needs pupils


A new report by the Nuffield Foundation claims children born prematurely are disadvantaged at school and into adulthood. Premature births currently represent 11% of all live births worldwide and on average; any primary school classroom will include two children born prematurely.

The report found that children born before 34 weeks gestation have poorer reading and maths skills than those born at full term, and the difficulties they experience at school continue to have effects into adulthood: by the age of 42, adults who were born prematurely have lower incomes and are less likely to own their own home than those born at full term.

The study analysed data from four large-scale longitudinal studies and found that the poorer reading and maths skills of children born prematurely were associated with lower educational qualifications on leaving school and lower income in middle age. It also looked at whether delaying school entry enabled children born prematurely to do better at school but found no evidence to support this. Children who started school a year later did not perform better in teacher ratings of their academic attainment than children who had started at an age appropriate time.

The research showed that over 80% of teachers and over 50% of educational psychologists had received no formal training about the effect of preterm birth on children’s’ development and learning, something which needs to be addressed if the growing numbers of preterm children are to be supported.

Dr Samantha Johnson from the University of Leicester said: “Teachers and educational psychologists receive little formal training about the effects of preterm birth on children’s long term development and learning and are often not aware of appropriate strategies to support preterm children in the classroom.”

The report recommends that all preterm children born before 34 weeks of gestation may benefit from regular follow-up after discharge from hospital. Interventions are required around the time of school entry to facilitate preterm children to have an optimal start to their schooling career. Delayed school entry is not recommended on current evidence, but more research is needed.