Struggling to meet pupils' needs

18th January 2013 at 00:00

Your story entitled "Pupils born prematurely 'struggle' to get needs met" (11 January) highlights the inbuilt inequity in the education system. It is now not inconceivable for a child who was born prematurely to be 15-16 months behind some of their classmates, physically and cognitively. Add in gender, class and a failing school and the disadvantages become greater and greater.

However, the interesting part is that the last two months of a brain's development in the womb are very important, and while we have significantly improved the physical medical advances for premature babies, the cognitive advances may not be as sophisticated. We now have about 80,000 premature children a year who survive but whose prefrontal regions of the brain and other parts may be are underdeveloped. There are always exceptions to this, but increasingly there is an interest in the link between premature babies and special educational needs, particularly forms of autism.

As part of this, many teachers will be teaching children who may have underdeveloped prefrontal regions of the brain who behave and learn differently from their peers and who may present challenges to how their teachers teach. Such challenges need to be acknowledged through better training and awareness for teachers and increased understanding of the needs of such children. There is also a further dimension to this for parents who may have been through the trauma of a premature birth but then potentially have to deal with neglect and disadvantage built into the education system.

David Spendlove, Programme director, School of Education, University of Manchester.

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