Saturday, 5 July 2014

Former Premature Children and School

Joseph started reception in September this year. Joseph had been at nursery since he was 2, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be a little difficult but I wasn't prepared for the reality of school life for my little boy.

It's been widely reported that prematurely born children can "underperform" compared to their peers born at term, and that starting children a year later can help. The reports focus on those children who have effectively skipped a school year, and this is an important issue. If a child is due in November and born in August to me it's clear cut, that child should be offered the choice to start reception in their correct year.

The law states that children do not need to be in compulsory education until they are 5. What generally happens is that child then starts in year 1 skipping their reception year. For most prematurely born children this isn't an option, it's counter productive.

This brings us to Joseph. He was born in May but due in August, he didn't skip a school year, so I didn't apply to the LEA for special consideration. It was clear Joseph didn't have additional needs enough to warrant any intervention or statementing so I sent him off to school, after explaining some of his quirks to his teacher. Only his teacher resigned shortly after the beginning of the school year, and effectively all the information was lost.

We've recently had some information back from school, a communications assessment. My little boy is behind with social communication. He doesn't relate to children in a meaningful way, and spends a lot of his time alone with brief moments of interaction. His gait and his fine motor skills are of concern too.

Holding him back a year wouldn't really have made an appreciable difference, and in fact, what is heartening, is that some of the July and August boys in his class are very similar to him, he is not alone.

The big problem I have come across is the lack of awareness amongst education professionals in our school regarding prematurity. I often think of the 1 in 13 figure of children born prematurely and wonder why this is. But on further reflection alot of these babies are born between 34 and 37 weeks and the impact on brain development is not as marked. The very premature children, on a local education authority level, are spread throughout the country so it's probably quite rare a teacher will have had experience.

School have been great. Once I explained about the research, about what Joseph was experiencing in terms of attention, social communication and fine motor skills wasn't unusual for a baby born at 27 weeks, we started pulling together as a team.

The assessor said to me that Joseph is a very clever, compassionate little boy and just needs some extra help to develop to his full potential.

I'm glad I made the decision not to delay his entry, but I wish it could be easier for him. He has struggled with school, but now, coming to the end of reception, he adores school and has made friends. He is very popular and all the children come and say hello to him, from year 6 down!

In my opinion more work needs to be done to ensure schools and local authorities are aware of the issues, beyond the delayed entry, and are ready to support teachers with a prematurely born child in their class, with the things they need to ensure they excel, to minimise stress for all concerned.

Early Years is a time of learning, exploration, and fun, it shouldn't be stressful.

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