Making sense of maths: vital support for teenagers born very prematurely

Posted by ap507 at Oct 01, 2015 10:35 AM |
University of Leicester researcher leads project to provide vital maths skills to prematurely born teenagers

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 1 October 2015

A photograph of Dr Samantha Johnson is available here:

An award-winning research team led by University of Leicester researchers is developing a web-based e-learning programme to help teenagers who were born very prematurely with vital maths skills.

The unique resource will be used by teachers to support children’s learning. As one in every 50 babies is born before 32 weeks of pregnancy, almost all teachers will be responsible for supporting children who were born very early.

Lead researcher Dr Samantha Johnson, a Senior Research Fellow from the University of Leicester’s Department of Health Sciences, explained: “Many children who were born very prematurely, before 32 weeks of pregnancy, have learning difficulties. Of all school subjects, these children are most likely to struggle with maths. Such difficulties, even in primary school, can affect children’s prospects throughout their whole life.

“We’ve found that teachers often feel ill-equipped to support such children’s learning, especially in maths. In earlier work we found that over 90 per cent of teachers in the UK wanted this sort of support. We hope to enable teachers to help all premature children to achieve their full potential.”

Maths skills are often reported as being more important than reading skills in predicting life chances, frequently being linked to future employment prospects and earning potential. Dr Johnson and her team are determined to help.

The three year study, funded by children’s charity Action Medical Research, has now begun.

Dr Johnson said: “We are investigating the learning and maths skills of teenagers who were born very prematurely to find out which areas of maths they are struggling with and why. Importantly, we also hope to find out what types of support these young people need at school.”

With earlier funding from Action, the team studied the same children when they were eight to 10 years old. Victoria Simms, one of the researchers on this study, recently won the prestigious British Psychological Society Neil O’Connor Award for this work.

Now Dr Johnson and her team will explore how the children’s maths skills have developed from primary to secondary school.

The team comprises Rose Griffiths at the University of Leicester’s School of Education; Camilla Gilmore of Loughborough University; Lucy Cragg and Heather Wharrad of the University of Nottingham; Neil Marlow at University College London; and Victoria Simms who is based at Ulster University.

Dr Johnson added: “We will use the information gained in this research to develop a web-based, e-learning programme that shows teachers how best to support premature children’s learning, especially in maths. In earlier work, we found that over 90 per cent of teachers in the UK wanted this sort of support. We hope to enable teachers to help all premature children to achieve their full potential.”

Dr Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager at Action Medical Research, said: “Maths skills are vital for every child’s future. Action is very pleased to be able to fund this exciting project to support children born very prematurely in this crucial area of learning.”

For more information on research to help premature babies and children with learning difficulties funded by Action Medical Research, see  

For updates, follow @actionmedres or find Action on Facebook.

Further information about the PRISM study can be found on the website here:  


Notes to Editors:

For more information about the study please contact Dr Samantha Johnson on  

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Preterm labour and birth final scope. 10 July 2013. Website accessed 28 January 2015

For further information on Action Medical Research please contact:

Kate Lee, Research Communications Officer



Follow us on Twitter at @actionmedres and @amr_events  
Like our Facebook page at
Follow us at pinterest/actionmedres

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.

Share this page: