Research published today by North Bristol NHS Trust and the University of Bristol indicates that adjusting the year of school entry for children born premature who have fallen into a different academic year than the one they were due to be born into, may be a simple way to improve educational outcomes for these children.
The results come from a new study, Preterm birth, age at school entry and long term educational achievement, which was published today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, and has looked at children’s education performance from their Key Stage 1 test results right up to their GCSEs - to see if their prematurity had an impact on educational performance.
The study adjusted test scores to see what would happen if children who fell into the ‘wrong’ year group as a result of their prematurity had started school according to their due date. It found modifying the year of school entry substantially reduced the impact of prematurity on school performance. It is estimated around 30 per cent of premature children born in the summer months would have fallen into a different school year group had they reached their due date.
The study concludes that delaying entry until a child’s ‘correct’ school year would benefit premature born children, particularly those born extremely early.
Bliss has been campaigning for a number of years for increased flexibility in the school admissions process for children born premature.
Bliss Chief Executive Caroline Davey said: "This research highlights the long-term educational consequences children born prematurely may face if their prematurity is not taken into consideration when making school admissions decisions.
"Every child born premature will have different needs, and while one child may be ready to start school with their peers and will thrive at school, another may not. We believe that it should be up to parents to decide if it is right for their child to delay starting school, and will be responding to the Government's forthcoming consultation to stress the importance of flexibility for children born premature. We are confident that with the right care at birth and support throughout their development, children born premature can reach their full potential."
Following the campaigning work of Bliss and other parent groups, the Department for Education is due to consult on a new School Admissions Code this year. Schools Minister Nick Gibb has promised this will address the problems some parents currently face when trying to get their child to start reception at five rather than four. While there is no statutory barrier preventing children born in the summer months from starting school in the September after their fifth birthday, this is up to individual school admissions teams, who are often reluctant to allow this flexibility.
If you would like to know more about delaying or deferring school entry for your child, please see our school admissions webpages for more information.
For FAQs explaining what this all means for parents please click here.