Schools and health working together

MCRI research calls for more integrated systems to enhance learning for children with emerging needs.

1 in 5 children start school with health or emotional difficulties that can challenge their learning, says new research published in Child: care, health and development.

The findings showed an association between children presenting with mild to moderate difficulties at school entry and poorer NAPLAN results in year 3, for reading and numeracy, compared with children who started school without difficulties. And the risk was greater for children experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.

Emerging difficulties and learning

The new research looked at data from the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) and found that 17% of children at school entry had emerging developmental concerns, as identified by their teacher, but did not qualify as having special needs.

There are many different ways that children’s emerging health and or developmental needs can present. It may include a child being disruptive, having difficulties understanding the teacher’s instructions, or experiencing fears and anxieties at a level that makes it difficult for them to learn.

In an MCRI media release, Dr O’Connor, lead author of the published research, said, ‘for some children with emerging needs, language and learning issues could directly affect their capacity to engage with the mainstream academic curriculum. For other children, the impact on learning was more indirect such as through missing more school days.

How integrated systems may enhance learning

Children’s emerging health and developmental needs that may interfere with learning, can and often do, fly under the radar.

These research findings suggest that our education and health systems could integrate more seamlessly to better support children’s emerging needs, particularly for children who are also disadvantaged.

Schools can be powerful public health platforms, and teachers and parents play a key role in identifying children’s needs. What we need are new ways to quickly identify, communicate about, and respond to children’s needs as they first become apparent.

The Centre for Community Child Health Director, Prof Sharon Goldfeld suggests that “health practitioners like paediatricians can help to identify learning issues and make referrals to early intervention services, provide guidance for parents on how to create rich learning environments in the home, and advocate for the use of evidence-based approaches,” she said in an MCRI Media release.

You can dive deeper into the research and its implications with the following resources:

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