Mathematical Sciences

News and events

24 May 2019

New online tool will help teachers support preterm children who develop special educational needs as they get older

A new online tool aims to increase primary teachers’ awareness of the link between preterm birth and educational difficulties as well as give practical teaching advice for helping those most at risk.

Preterm children are more likely to develop learning difficulties

Researchers from Loughborough University, the University of Leicester, the University of Nottingham, Ulster University and University College London have developed a website which helps teachers support children who were born prematurely with learning and schoolwork.

The group says that around 61,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK, with an average of two or three preterm children in every British classroom.

Despite this, many teachers only receive limited training on how best to support those pupils.

Dr Camilla Gilmore, a Reader in Mathematical Cognition, at Loughborough's Mathematics Education Centre, said: “We were pleased to be involved in developing this resource because our research has shown that preterm children may have particular difficulties with mathematics.

“This resource will give teachers the information and tools they need to be able to support preterm children in developing the mathematics skills that are so important for future success.”

The free online resource, funded by children’s charity, Action Medical Research, takes teachers through five main areas:

  1. What is preterm birth?
  2. Educational outcomes following preterm birth
  3. Cognitive and motor development following preterm birth
  4. Behavioural, social and emotional outcomes following preterm birth
  5. How can education professionals support preterm children?

After completing the stages, teachers should be able to identify a number of important factors, including which subjects children are most likely to struggle with, and how difficulties with IQ, processing speed, memory, and hand-eye coordination may impact on learning.

Other key points include, understanding that children born preterm may be withdrawn, anxious, and inattentive, and have difficulties developing relationships with their peers, and that preterm youngsters are not normally disruptive, which could lead to them being overlooked in the classroom.

‌From the website

Professor Samantha Johnson, Professor of Child Development at the University of Leicester, said: “Our initial research identified that teachers have limited training about the difficulties children born prematurely might face and how to support these children at school.

“However, when teachers used our new e-learning resource their confidence in how to support a preterm child increased significantly. So much so that 97% of teachers in the study said they would recommend it to others.”

The project has been trialled at 61 primary schools in the UK.

Children who are born preterm, before 37 weeks of gestation, are at higher risk of developing learning difficulties as they grow up, the group said.

Those born extremely preterm, before 28 weeks of gestation, are most likely to need extra support, and even youngsters born just a few weeks early could face difficulties in school.

Dr Tracy Swinfield, Director of Research at Action Medical Research, said: “As a children’s charity we are proud to play a role in helping children who may need extra help in the classroom reach their full potential.

“This exciting new resource for teachers has the potential to make a difference to thousands of young lives.”

The e-learning resource is now freely available to schools and teachers at: