Parents and researchers share insights at University of Leicester for World Prematurity Day

Teachers, parents and professionals will benefit from the latest research and hear personal stories at a free event to raise awareness of the potential educational needs of children born preterm at the University of Leicester on Thursday 17 November.

Among those speaking at the event will be Lady Sarra Hoy, Ambassador for the neonatal charity Bliss and wife of Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, who will share her experience as a parent of a preterm child.

It will take place at the University’s George Davies Centre, which will be lit up in purple to mark World Prematurity Day, to recognise the challenges associated with preterm birth and the impact it can have on children and families.

Each year, around 15 million babies are born preterm – before 37 weeks of pregnancy – worldwide. In the UK alone, around 60,000 babies are born preterm each year. 

Although not all preterm-born children will have special educational needs, some may require additional support at school and in the early years.

At ‘The educational needs of children born preterm’ on 17 November from 5pm-6pm, researchers and parents of preterm-born children will raise awareness of the potential consequences of preterm birth on children's development and learning, and the kinds of support they may need at school.

It is organised by the Infant Mortality and Morbidity Studies (TIMMS) research group at the University of Leicester which carries out world leading research to improve survival and long term outcomes for babies born preterm. Organiser Professor Samantha Johnson is a developmental psychologist and Professor of Child Development who for over twenty years has carried out research to understand and improve lifelong outcomes for children born preterm.

Professor Johnson, from the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said:  “Our research shows that children born preterm are more likely to have cognitive and social-emotional difficulties than children born at term and may require additional support at school. We also know that the kinds of difficulties preterm-born children often have might be missed in school. I am delighted to host this event to raise awareness of the research my colleagues and I have been doing to try and improve school support for these children.”  

Speakers on the day will include Lady Sarra Hoy, Ambassador for Bliss, and Matt Wilkinson, Trustee of the charity The Smallest Things. The charity runs the Prem Aware Award which supports teachers and schools in becoming ‘prem aware’ and involves free training developed by a team led by Professor Johnson at the University of Leicester. 

Matt Wilkinson of The Smallest Things charity said: “Parents of children born prematurely have told us that they feel there needs to be more awareness of the lasting impact of premature birth, including the kind of difficulties their children might have and the support they might need in school. We were delighted to work with the University of Leicester to develop our Prem Aware Award for schools to raise awareness of the impact of prematurity on learning and development and to help equip schools with the knowledge they need to support children born prematurely in the classroom.” 

Lady Sarra Hoy, Ambassador for Bliss, said: "Events such as this one, hosted by the University of Leicester are vital because they bring together experts to share their views alongside hearing from those with lived experience of prematurity.  This essential research goes a long way to supporting parents, teachers and professionals in understanding the difficulties this often overlooked group of children may face.”