Premature birth: tackling children’s difficulties with maths at school
Published on 19 February 2015
Around 16,000 babies are born very prematurely, before 32 weeks of pregnancy, each year in the UK.1-4 Being born this early puts children at high risk of experiencing learning difficulties, particularly in maths, but many teachers feel ill equipped to help. Dr Samantha Johnson, of the University of Leicester, is studying teenagers who were born very prematurely to find out which areas of maths they are struggling with and why. She will draw on her findings to develop a web-based, e-learning programme for teachers, explaining how to help children achieve their full potential if they were born too soon.
How are children’s lives affected now?
“Many children who were born prematurely, before 32 weeks of pregnancy, have learning difficulties,” says Dr Johnson. “Of all school subjects, these children are most likely to struggle with maths. Such difficulties, even in primary school, can affect children’s prospects throughout their whole life.”
Maths skills are reported as being even more important than reading skills in predicting life chances. They are linked to future employment prospects and earning potential.
As one in every 50 babies is born before 32 weeks of pregnancy, almost all teachers will be responsible for supporting such children at school.1
“We’ve found that teachers often have poor knowledge about the needs of premature children, with many feeling ill-equipped to support such children’s learning, especially in maths,” says Dr Johnson. “Children who were born very early may not be getting appropriate support in the very area they need it the most.”
How could this research help?
“We are investigating the learning and maths skills of teenagers who were born very prematurely to find out which areas of maths they are struggling with and why,” says Dr Johnson. “Importantly, we also hope to find out what types of support these young people need at school.”
With earlier funding from Action Medical Research, the team studied the same children when they were eight to 10 years old. Now they are exploring how the children’s maths skills have developed from primary to secondary school.
“We will use the information gained in this research to develop a web-based, e-learning programme that shows teachers how best to support premature children’s learning, especially in maths,” says Dr Johnson. “In earlier work, we found that over 90 per cent of teachers in the UK wanted this sort of support. We hope to enable teachers to help all premature children to achieve their full potential.”
1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Preterm labour and birth final scope. 10 July 2013. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-cgwave0660/documents/preterm-labour... Website accessed 28 January 2015.
2. ISD Scotland. Births in Scottish Hospitals. Year ending 31st March 2013. Publication date – 26th August 2014. http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Maternity-and-Births/Publicatio... Website accessed 19 January 2015.
3. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Births. Live Births, 1887 to 2013 (Excel). http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp8.htm Website accessed 19 January 2015.
4. Office for National Statistics. Births in England and Wales 2013. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/birth-summary-tables--england-and-wa... Website accessed 19 January 2015.
|Project Leader||Dr Samantha J Johnson BA PhD CPsychol AFBPsS|
|Location||Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester|
|Grant awarded||5 January 2015|
|Start date||4 August 2015|
|End date||3 August 2018|
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