Premature babies may be disadvantaged later in life

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland Health Correspondent

media captionAround 4,000 babies are born prematurely in Scotland every year

Children born prematurely may be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives by poor understanding of their needs, according to experts.

Paediatricians' research has shown premature babies are more likely to have difficulties at school but few teachers are aware of this.

The number of children born prematurely is rising because women are having babies later in life.

Researchers say the education system should adapt to reflect this change.

They are calling for a child's gestation to be recorded on their education records as a way of flagging up any problems.

'Greater risk'

"We know from a Scottish study that the earlier you are born the more likely you are to have have problems at school", said Glasgow paediatrician Dr Nashwa Matta.

"But these children may still be clever and the problems don't appear until the workload increases at primary or secondary school."

Children born prematurely are more likely to be emotionally immature, lonely and at greater risk of bullying.

They may have visual perception issues, including difficulties with numbers and mathematics.

image captionLorraine says believes 'pre-term' health could be taken more seriously

Further traits of prematurely born children may include short memories, attention spans and problems with multi-tasking.

Some premature children are also disadvantaged if they are born at the end of the school year because they are effectively sent to school a year early.

If they had been born full term they would have gone to school the following year.

Around 4,000 babies are born prematurely every year in Scotland.

'Behavioural issues'

Dr Matta has organised a one-day conference to highlight the issue at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

"The simplest thing to do is to put child's gestation on their school entry form," said Dr Matta.

Then, when a teacher has a child with difficulty with attention, certain work, and memory then they will know he's born prematurely and can find out what can be done so gap doesn't get bigger."

Three-year-old Findlay Masterton was born three months early. His mum Lorraine is worried he won't be able to cope when he goes to school.

"He has behavioural issues, there's a strict regime of how he likes things done," she said.

She added: "Findlay has different wee issues that a kid born full term wouldn't have and I think these might show up when he goes to school next year.

"There's nothing stated for schools that they have to do anything about this or give them extra time for their lessons.

"Schools recognise medical problems, but pre-term? I don't think it's taken seriously enough."

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) backed the call for tailored support for children with additional support needs.

An EIS spokesperson said: "Teachers and other education professionals working in our schools are aware of the broad range of additional support that is sometimes needed to allow all children to benefit fully from their education.

"There is a requirement for continuing investment in adequate ASN resources in all schools, and for teachers and other professionals to have access to ongoing professional development to ensure that they can continue meeting the particular needs of all pupils."

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