Children born prematurely can have poorer reading and maths skills than those born at full term, and the difficulties they experience at school continue to have effects into adulthood.
According to separate research from the University of Warwick, by the age of 42, adults who were born prematurely have lower incomes and are less likely to own their own home than those born at full term.
Delayed yeargroup entry for babies born in the late summer is not uncommon, but Dr Katherine Pettinger, a neonatal doctor who co-authored the Leeds University study said that even this would not make up the gap caused by premature birth.
“Whilst it seems like an obvious solution, delayed entry for premature children is not likely to compensate for being born early, as we found that within a given school year, the risks to development faced by children born premature did not vary depending on when within that school year they were born,” she said.
“To try to better support this at risk group we instead suggest that schools should be informed which of their pupils were born prematurely so they can be given extra support, particularly early on in their schooling.”
According to national guidelines, once discharged from hospital severely premature children are given follow up medical support, and it is recommended that their schools are informed of their circumstances. But for moderately premature children, born between three to eight weeks early, there is no routine follow up support offered, so schools are unlikely to be informed.
The study recommends that tailored advice should be provided to families of premature children, while learning resources should be given to teachers to support those children in the classroom.