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Premature babies do less well at school, Bristol study finds

Children of the 90s project says premature babies need more support before starting education than those born at full term

Premature babies fare less well at school and need more support before starting education than those born at full term, research from the Children of the 90s project has found.

Some 71% of babies born between 32 and 36 weeks are successful in key stage 1 (KS1) tests (defined as achieving at least level 2 in reading, writing and maths), compared to 79% of babies born at full term (37-41 weeks).

Babies born between 32 and 36 weeks (‘late-preterm’) make up 82% of all premature births and 6% of all live births in the UK, and are generally considered to be in the ‘safe zone’ of premature births.

But this group requires closer attention to ensure they receive adequate educational support, according to researchers from the University of Bristol.

Analysing data from 13,978 infants in Children of the 90s, the researchers found that the 5% (734) of babies born at 32-36 weeks fared less well in KS1 tests compared to the 86% (12,089) of babies born at term.

The lower overall success rate was replicated in the success rates for individual subjects: reading 78% vs 85%; writing 77% to 84%; and maths 82% to 89%.

Previous research has shown that premature babies are more at risk of developmental delay, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties but little has been known until now about how well late-preterm babies in the UK fare at school compared to babies born at full term.

The findings of this study agree with previous research suggesting poorer school outcomes in late-preterm infants and add to an emerging evidence base of poor long-term neurological and developmental outcomes among children born late-preterm.

Speaking about the findings, the report’s main author Dr Philip Peacock said: “Given that children born late-preterm make up the majority of all preterm births, and comprise around six per cent of the population, this group warrants more recognition and surveillance than is currently provided.

“We recommend children born late-preterm receive a ‘school readiness’ and educational assessment prior to starting school to help identify potential learning problems. Early intervention within this vulnerable group of children may help reduce the burden of school problems and their associated consequences.”

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