In education we are constantly focusing on narrowing the gap, whether the gap is between those who have low (ability) entry points or those who come from households with low cultural capital.* In the past some schools have found themselves in a position of being responsive to these shifting focuses- other schools have been ahead of the curve, at times by ignoring these shifting sands altogether and focusing on every child. One curve which I’m intrigued by at the moment is the increasing number of premature children, we will be teaching. In England, survival rates of very premature babies increased from 53% in 2006 to 80% in 2011. This is significant given that research from the University of Warwick (Replicated by, Katri Rikkonen, professor of psychology at University of Helsinki) has shown that the IQ of adults born very premature or of very low birth weight can be significantly lower than their punctual and weighty brothers and sisters.
Professor Wolke, who led the research, has stated that “some children born very premature or with very low birth weight score low on cognitive tests but beat the odds and improve into adulthood”. The issue for us as educators is how they achieve this- for some this may be a natural process of growth but it seems reasonable to suggest that an excellent education would have a significant impact.
One solution is early national level intervention- Wolke believes that “early identification of cognitive problems in these children may help to plan specialised therapeutic and educational interventions to help them and their families.” Though his research doesn’t point to any particular solutions, our colleagues in early years sectors and therapeutic roles (speech and language etc.) likely have a significant role to play here.
Their likely are not specific approaches these children will need at secondary school, but it seems fair to say that we should prepare ourselves for more children with low start points. As an English teacher, I feel I’m noticing more children who lack basic reading and writing skills. Friends I’ve spoken to in primary are finding that start points are lower and lower- they’re having to learn how to teach things they’d previously considered nursery/home lessons. The sooner we all prepare for these difficulties the better.
Wolke suggests several strategies which run counter to other research I’ve read (see below) , but I for one will be spending a lot of time over the Summer thinking deeply about how I adjust for those with low entry points in my subject.
Wolke’s Strategy suggestions:
- For less demanding tasks, provide reinforcement and structure them to ensure success; for more demanding tasks, personalise and provide support as appropriate for the young person’s developmental stage.
- Find assessments which take account of cognitive workload demands to provide a more detailed picture of strengths and weaknesses for planning support for children born preterm.
- Use adaptive computerised working memory training.
- To maintain attention (above IQ as the greatest predictor of educational success), educators need to organise learning tasks in smaller chunks.
- Use attention training and focussing tasks.
- Support social integration by assisting group work, special peer mentoring, and liaising with parents over activities to increase friends.
- Use innovative computer assisted interventions to support social skills and integration.
- Children and young people with autistic type features and rigidity may cope better with predictable routines and graded changes.
*I focus here on low cultural capital because this is a proven factor in childhood intelligence, whereas Free School Meals can be a marker of parental involvement in Higher Education or even self-employment. Both of which, can involve a higher availability of culture capital to a child and therefore skew figures on effectiveness of strategies aimed at improving outcomes for ‘disadvantaged’ children.