The impact of premature birth on maths achievement and schooling

Researchers: Professor Dieter Wolke | Dr Samantha Johnson ...

Project overview


This study aimed to quantify the type and severity of learning difficulties experienced by children born prematurely (up to 36 weeks), and in particular to understand the origins and nature of mathematics problems.

It analysed data from six large-scale longitudinal studies: the Millennium Cohort Study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), the British Cohort Study, the National Child Development Study, the Bavarian Longitudinal Study (BLS), and the EPICure Study.

The researchers also used these datasets to investigate:

  • What are the long term consequences of maths and other learning difficulties?
  • Would delayed or deferred school entry benefit very preterm children’s school performance?
  • What do teachers and parents know about the outcomes and schooling problems of preterm children?
Findings and recommendations
  • Moderately, very and extremely preterm children, born before 34 weeks of gestation, are more likely to have cognitive deficits and learning difficulties than children born at term. The risk for such difficulties increases with decreasing gestation at birth.
  • Preterm children’s learning problems in primary school, in particular difficulties with mathematics, are associated with lower wealth in adulthood.
  • Many parents consider delayed school entry as one intervention that may help their preterm children to do better at school. Our findings, based on the largest investigation to date, do not support this. Rather, preterm children may benefit from entering school at the appropriate age but receiving additional support in school.
  • Teachers and educational psychologists receive little formal training about preterm birth and are often not aware of appropriate strategies to support preterm children in the classroom. Informing teachers about the special constellation of problems following preterm birth is crucial in preparing them to support the growing number of preterms entering schools in the coming years.
  • All preterm children born before 34 weeks of gestation should have regular follow-up. 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. Education professionals require more training about the specific difficulties faced by preterm children, and tailored new approaches to teaching preterm children are needed.
What is meant by preterm?

Each year in England, around 10,000 children are born very preterm (at less than 32 weeks gestation) and a further 60,000 are born moderately preterm (at 32-36 weeks gestation).

The number of preterm births has increased in the last two decades, and more preterm children are surviving due to improved neonatal care. However, the prevalence of cognitive, behavioural and emotional problems in preterm populations has not changed. In particular, children born preterm have been found to experience specific learning problems including difficulties with mathematics, visual-spatial skills, memory and attention.

There is still much we do not know about the nature and spectrum of these learning difficulties, their long term consequences, and how to deal with them. In particular, there is controversy about whether moderately preterm children experience similar but milder learning problems.

Latest on this project


Team


  • Professor Dieter Wolke
    University of Warwick
  • Dr Samantha Johnson
    University of Leicester
  • Dr Julia Jaekel
    University of Tennessee
  • Dr Camilla Gilmore
    Loughborough University

  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Young-child-blurred-in-background-plays-with-abacus-in-foreground-Early-years-employment-pathways-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2020

A systematic review of early years degrees and employment pathways

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
man reading picture book to baby
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2022

Do infants learn new words from educational picture books?

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
Maths resit students taking exam
Reported

Education | 2019 - 2020

A new mathematics GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2018

GCSE and A-level results day project

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2019

Developing a sustainable intervention for disadvantaged children

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Mathematics in Further Education Colleges (MiFEC)

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Educational attainment of children in need & children in care

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Undermatch in higher education: prevalence, drivers and outcomes

View project
Teacher and young schoolgirl in classroom look at building blocks brain training game together
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2019

Trialling an executive function training intervention for preschoolers

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

The effect of retention and turnover on the teaching workforce

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2019

A follow up survey of break and lunch times in schools

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2017

School choice and equality of opportunity

View project
Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

Profile