Research into children’s maths difficulties wins top award

Posted by ap507 at May 29, 2015 11:54 AM |
University of Leicester study into prematurely born children’s learning difficulties wins British Psychological Society Neil O’Connor Award

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 29 May 2015

Researchers from the University of Leicester who investigated why children who are born prematurely struggle with maths have scooped a top national award for excellence in research.

The British Psychological Society Neil O’Connor Award has been awarded to the team for The Premature Infants’ Skills in Mathematics (PRISM) Study, funded by Action Medical Research and led by Dr Samantha Johnson of the University of Leicester’s Department of Health Sciences.

During the study the researchers assessed the learning and maths skills of a group of children who were born very prematurely, before 32 weeks of pregnancy, and a group of children who were born after a full pregnancy.

They found that premature children were more likely to have difficulties with maths in primary school and showed, for the first time, that these stemmed from problems with memory and hand-eye coordination.

A paper reporting these pioneering findings was published in Pediatric Research earlier this year - and has now been awarded the British Psychological Society Neil O’Connor Award for excellence in the field of understanding the nature and causes of developmental disabilities.

The PRISM study was carried out by a team of experts in children’s development from across the UK including Dr Camilla Gilmore (Loughborough University), Dr Lucy Cragg (University of Nottingham) and Professor Neil Marlow (University College London) and was led by Dr Johnson of the University of Leicester.

The award will be collected by Dr Victoria Simms, now of Ulster University, who was the first author of the paper and a researcher on the study based at Leicester.

Dr Johnson said: “We are delighted that our research has been recognised for its contribution to science and to furthering understanding of the causes of children’s learning difficulties. As a team, it is our goal to improve the lives of children with learning difficulties, and the PRISM Study was a big step forward in helping us to do this.

“Victoria is looking forward to telling other scientists about our work in her keynote speech at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Section conference in September.”

The research team have just received a second grant from Action Medical Research to follow-up with the children who took part in the PRISM Study to find out how their maths skills are developing now they are in secondary school.

The team are also developing an intervention for teachers to provide them with the skills they need to support premature children’s learning in school.

Dr Johnson added: “We are thrilled that Action Medical Research has given us the opportunity to develop an intervention to help teachers provide the best possible support for premature children in school. One day we hope this will improve the academic achievement and opportunities of prematurely born children throughout the world.”


Notes to Editors:

For more information please contact Dr Victoria Simms at    

About Action Medical Research

Action Medical Research is a leading UK-wide charity working to save and change children’s lives through medical research. We believe that the diseases that devastate the lives of so many of our children can be beaten. We have been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 like the first polio vaccines in the UK, ultrasound in pregnancy and the rubella vaccine – helping to save thousands of children’s lives and change many more. Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world. (Charity reg. nos 208701 and SC039284).

Useful Links:

PRISM Study:  

Action medical Research PRISM Study page:   

BPS award announcement:  

The paper published in Pediatric Research:  

About Dr Samantha Johnson:  

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