Children who are born premature may ‘catch up’ educationally despite lower test scores in their early education, a research study funded by Southmead Hosptial Charity has found.

Consultant Neonatologist at Southmead Hospital Dr David Odd led the research, looking at the school test data of 12,586 children in the Children of the 90s longitudinal study to assess if infants born prematurely struggle in school as they grow up.

To date most research has looked at how these children perform at school but not how they can make progress.

Published in the British Medical Journal’s Archives of Diseases of Childhood the findings show that while the trajectory of educational progress varies, children may ‘catch up’ by the time they are age 11 (key stage 2). At all four key stage assessments preterm children had a higher chance of being in the lowest scoring group but had a higher trajectory of improvement, particularly between key stage 1 and 2.

Dr David Odd, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol and Consultant Neonatologist at Southmead Hospital, said: “While we know that children born prematurely are more likely to struggle at school than their peers we didn’t know what their capacity was to catch up over time.

“With six per cent of births in the UK occurring four weeks or earlier than their due date it is important for both parents and the education profession to know when targeted help could be most effective. Compared to their early tests at school these perform better than would be expected so those managing support for them should not underestimate their capabilities and plan accordingly.”

The study was funded by Southmead Hospital Charity.

Elizabeth Bond, head of fundraising at Southmead Hospital Charity, said: “Southmead Hospital Charity is proud to support research like this that gives us a valuable insight into long term health and development outcomes and can shape the way children are supported as they grow.

“Our research fund is designed to provide springboard funding for projects that support patients now and, in the future, shaping the way that healthcare is delivered.”