Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

Premature children should be treated as ‘special needs’ pupils by teachers

Children who are born prematurely are far less likely to succeed in adult life

Premature babies should be treated as children with ‘special needs’ and monitored through primary school, say health experts, following research that shows they are hugely disadvantaged in life.
Children born before 34 weeks have poorer reading and maths skills, will have lower incomes in adulthood and are less likely to own their home by the age of 42, compared with those born at full term.
But a new report by the Nuffield Foundation warns that eight out of 10 teachers have had no training in dealing with premature children and mostly treat them as just another member of the class.
More than 50,000 babies (7.3 per cent) are born prematurely in England and Wales each year, and can end up in lessons with classmates who are more than a year older than them, meaning they can struggle to keep up.
A recent study in American suggested that preterm babies are born before there auditory system has finished developing and are then bombarded by noisy hospitals, which prevent them being able to concentrate fully in later life.
The new report suggests that premature children should be monitored throughout primary school to make sure they are developing the same skills as full term babies.
Samantha Johnson from the University of Leicester, one of the experts who helped compile the report, 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.”

A cohort study by the University of Warwick, commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation before the report, found that babies born preterm were 28 per cent more likely to be manual workers; 24 per cent more likely to be unemployed; 17 per cent more likely to be in financial difficulty; and 31 per cent less likely to own a home by their 40s.
On average, any primary school classroom will include two children born prematurely. But more than 80 per cent of teachers and half of educational psychologists had received no formal training about the effect of preterm birth on children’s’ development and learning.
The report also looked at whether delaying school entry enabled children born prematurely to do better at school but found no evidence to support this. They found that 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.
Professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick, said: “Our findings lead us to recommend 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.”
The report recommends ‘follow-up assessments’ to identify early mental, social and emotional problems for preterm children which should carry on through primary school.
They also call for more training for teachers.
“New teaching approaches need to be developed to deal with the special educational and social needs of preterm children in the classroom,” they conclude.