3. School attainment
On average, children born preterm have lower levels of academic attainment than children who were born at term. Just as is the case with SEN, the more preterm a baby is born the greater the likelihood they will have difficulties with learning later in life, and the poorer their academic attainment is likely to be. As a group, children born preterm have lower attainment across all national curriculum subjects, but they are most likely to have difficulties with mathematics.
Preterm children's difficulties can be seen from the early years through the whole of primary and secondary education. The graph on this page shows how attainment at age 5 is related to gestational age at birth.
Play the video for an interpretation of the graph
This graph shows the proportion of children who had a good level of achievement, or were working securely within the early learning goals, at age 5, at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage in the UK.
The x axis along the bottom of the graph shows the 6 areas of learning that were assessed. The y axis shows the percentage of children who had a good level of achievement, so the higher the bars are the greater the proportion of children in that group who met the early learning goals. Very preterm children, born before 32 weeks of gestation, are shown in blue, and full term children, born at 39 to 41 weeks of gestation, are shown in orange.
Look at the difference in the height of the bars between the very preterm and full term children. You can see that, for every single area of learning, fewer children born very preterm than full term had a good level of achievement. For example, looking at the pair of bars on the far left, you can see that 50% of children born full term had a good overall level of achievement at age 5, compared with just 34% of children who were born very preterm.
The greatest difference between the two groups of children was in mathematical development, in which 70% of full term children had a good level of achievement compared with only 46% of children born very preterm.
Overall this graph shows that, already by the age of 5, children born preterm have poorer academic attainment than their peers who are born at term, and that they are most likely to have difficulties with mathematics.
The data used to create this graph were taken from: Quigley, M. A., Poulsen, G., Boyle, E., Wolke, D., Field, D., Alfirevic, Z., & Kurinczuk, J. J. (2012). Early term and late preterm birth are associated with poorer school performance at age 5 years: a cohort study. Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 97(3), F167-F173. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-300888