Latest news from Loughborough University

29 May 2015

Pioneering research exploring learning difficulties in premature children wins prestigious award

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A pioneering study into the mathematical performance of children born prematurely has received a national research award.

The Premature Infants’ Skills in Mathematics (PRISM) study, which was carried out by a team of experts in children’s development from Loughborough University and across the UK, has been awarded The Neil O’Connor Award by the British Psychological Society for excellence in the field of understanding the nature and causes of developmental disabilities.

Funded by Action Medical Research, the PRISM study assessed the learning and maths skills of a group of children who were born very prematurely, before 32 weeks of pregnancy, and a group of children who were born after a full pregnancy.

It found that the premature children were more likely to have difficulties with maths in primary school and showed, for the first time, that these stemmed from problems with memory and hand-eye co-ordination.

Dr Camilla Gilmore, Senior Research Fellow at Loughborough’s Maths Education Centre, worked on the PRISM study alongside Dr Samantha Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leicester’s Department of Health Sciences; Dr Victoria Simms, Lecturer in Psychology at Ulster University; Dr Lucy Cragg, Assistant Professor at University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology; and Professor Neil Marlow  from University College London.

The PRISM research team has also received a second grant from Action Medical Research to follow-up the children who took part in the PRISM study to find out how their maths skills are developing now they are in secondary school. The team is currently developing an intervention for teachers to provide them with the skills they need to support premature children’s learning in school.

Dr Gilmore said: “Maths difficulties can have a profound impact on children’s future life chances, which is why the results of the PRISM study are so important in helping us to understand – for the first time – why some premature children have difficulty learning maths.

“To have our research honoured with The Neil O’Connor Award is a fantastic achievement and reinforces why it is essential that we continue to develop the right types of interventions to support premature children’s learning both now and in the future.”

Dr Johnson added: “We are delighted that our research has been recognised for its contribution to science and to furthering understanding of the causes of children’s learning difficulties. As a team, it is our goal to improve the lives of children with learning difficulties, and the PRISM study was a big step forward in helping us to do this.”

The PRISM study titled Nature and origins of mathematics difficulties in very preterm children: a different etiology than developmental dyscalculia was published in Pediatric Research and is available to view here.

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 15/100

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.


Action Medical Research is a leading UK-wide charity working to save and change children’s lives through medical research. It believes that the diseases that devastate the lives of so many of our children can be beaten. It has been funding medical breakthroughs since it began in 1952 – helping to save thousands of children’s lives and change many more. 

Contact for all media enquiries

Judy Wing

PR Manager
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228697

Additional contact information

Dr Victoria Simms

Lecturer in Psychology
Ulster University