COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities Study

The COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities study (COSMO) is a national cohort study of more than 12,000 young people from across England, who were in Year 11 in the academic year 2020-21.

The study aims to examine the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational inequality and social mobility.

Data collection

There have been two waves of data collection so far.

Wave 1 and Wave 2 data are now available via UK Data Service. To learn more about the COSMO study design and data collection please visit the COSMO study website.

Who funds the study?

COSMO is a partnership between the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), the Sutton Trust, and CLS, with CLS providing expertise on design and management of longitudinal studies.

Wave 1 (begun in 2021) was funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of its COVID-19 rapid response fund. Wave 2 (begun in 2022) was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Fieldwork is being carried out by Verian (previously Kantar Public).

Latest from COSMO

New data release from COSMO Wave 2

21 November 2023

Data from Wave 2 of the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study is now available to researchers interested in exploring how COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis has affected the lives of 17–18-year-olds across England.


39% of young people in the most deprived areas struggling to get mental health support

9 November 2023

Nearly two fifths of 17-18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas have struggled to receive the mental health support they need in the past year, according to new COSMO study research.


Find out more about the COSMO study

4 December 2023

Explore the latest findings and news on the COSMO website.

Study aims

COSMO is the largest study of its kind into the unequal effects of COVID-19 on a generation of young people.

The study aims to capture the extent to which the pandemic shaped educational trajectories, and how this varies across different groups.

When the pandemic hit the UK in 2020, Year 11 pupils were beginning to make important decisions about their futures. They subsequently faced two years of serious disruption to their education, including the ultimate cancellation of their GCSEs.

The upheaval was unprecedented, with the consequences felt more deeply by those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Initial findings from COSMO are already providing valuable outputs about the differential effects of the pandemic. This will continue as young people transition to higher education and the labour market.

Study design and content

Sample design

COSMO uses an area-stratified random probability sample from the National Pupil Database, with additional independent school sampling, successfully recruiting more than 13,000 young people who were in Year 11 in 2020-21. The study oversampled young people from disadvantaged, ethnic minority and other often-excluded groups to ensure it reflects the full range of experiences of the pandemic.

Data collection

Wave 1 data collection involved web-first fieldwork (initial invite to an online survey, with targeted face-to-face follow up) with young people and parents.

Wave 2 also followed a web-first approach with young people and parents, with face-to-face, telephone and further online follow-up. It was completed in April 2023. All young people who took part in Wave 1 (along with their main parent) were invited to take part in Wave 2.

A proposed Wave 3 of the study is planned subject to availability of funding.


The study covers how the disruption to schooling during the pandemic has affected young people’s educational attainment and wellbeing, as well as their longer-term educational and career outcomes.

In Wave 1, topics covered across questionnaires included:

  • experiences of the pandemic
  • financial impacts in the home
  • disruption to schooling
  • access to home learning and school provision
  • attitudes to education
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • GCSE assessment in 2021 and the crucial post-16 transition.

In Wave 2, the emphasis shifted towards different paths young people might be taking, covering:

  • their activities since Wave 1
  • university applications
  • labour market and apprenticeship experiences
  • vocational training
  • core topics covered in Wave 1 such as mental health and wellbeing.

A consultation on the content of Wave 2 was carried out in February 2022. For more information about the consultation, visit the COSMO website.

Special features of the study

Boost sample of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with high potential

Study partner Sutton Trust has commissioned an additional sample of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who showed academic potential before the pandemic, to look in more depth at the impact on their chances for social mobility.

Linked administrative data

The study has been designed for linkage to administrative data from the National Pupil Database, the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, as well as other sources, such as:

  • participation in the National Tutoring Programme
  • the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)
  • Student Loans Company (SLC).

Data access

Researchers can access Wave 1 and Wave 2 COSMO data and documentation through the UK Data Service.

To learn more about the COSMO study design and data collection please visit the COSMO study website.

Principal Investigator

Dr Jake Anders Associate Professor, and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities

Jake’s research focuses on better understanding the causes and consequences of educational inequalities, evaluating policies and programmes aiming to reduce these inequalities, and how best to do this evaluation. In addition to leading the COSMO study, Jake’s other work includes research projects for multiple UK government departments, such as work for the Department for Education into the transition from education into work, as well as leading multiple randomised evaluations, such as Education Endowment Foundation-funded work focused on improving teachers’ use of formative assessment. His doctoral research consisted of three linked studies considering aspects of socio-economic inequality in access to higher education in England, considering both the point of entry to university but also its precursors.


  • Professor Lisa Calderwood, CLS
  • Professor Alissa Goodman, CLS
  • Professor Lindsey Macmillan, CEPEO
  • Professor Praveetha Patalay, CLS and MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL
  • Professor Gill Wyness, CEPEO
  • Carl Cullinane, Sutton Trust
Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Social Research Institute

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL


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