National study to track the pandemic’s effect on year 11 students’ life chances

23 April 2021

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) is part of the team behind a new cohort study of current year 11 students, which will investigate the educational and employment inequalities brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

The study, called the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) study, will receive £4.6 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It will be led by researchers from the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities and the Sutton Trust, in collaboration with CLS.

Following 12,000 year 11 students across England, it will be the largest study of its kind to explore how the disruption to schooling during the pandemic has affected young people’s educational attainment and wellbeing and longer-term educational and career outcomes. In particular, it will look at the extent to which students from less well-off backgrounds have been more likely to experience difficulties with home learning, such as lack of access to computers and internet for online learning, and differences in confidence and parental support.

Dr Jake Anders, UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, said: “COVID-19 and its aftermath are a generation-defining challenge – the disruption to education will have long-lasting effects on young people’s life chances, with the most disadvantaged children facing the largest effects. The COSMO study will provide vital new evidence on these unfair consequences, allowing us to plan how best to respond to this challenge.”

Professor Alissa Goodman, CLS director, said: “We know from information we collected from participants in our longitudinal studies during the pandemic that young people have been particularly affected by the crisis. For example, among young men in their late teens who had been working, 62% stopped work completely during the first lockdown – far more than among the older generations. This new study will be incredibly important for understanding more about the consequences of the pandemic for those at an earlier stage in their lives as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. We’re delighted to be part of the team behind this new study.”

The study team will recruit a representative cohort of young people who are in year 11 in the academic year 2020-21. Young people and their families will be invited to take part by letter in September 2021. They will be asked to complete questionnaires and interviews about their experiences and attitudes towards homeschooling and cancelled examinations, attitudes to the pandemic, health and wellbeing impacts in the home, and future educational and career hopes.

The young person’s school will also be contacted to find out about the school’s experience of the pandemic and lockdowns, including the challenges faced and the services they were able to offer.

Professor Alison Park, interim executive chair of the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UKRI, which funded the study, said: “This study gives us a unique opportunity to understand how the pandemic has affected students during a particularly critical year of their schooling. It will provide key insights about how disruptions including home learning have affected students’ work, confidence and attainment. Crucially, it will allow researchers to look in detail at the experience of those who have been hardest hit, such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This large and representative survey will follow students over time, producing the high-quality robust data needed to inform policy decisions and school practice.”

The study is funded to follow up the young people over at least two years, with aims to continue collecting data from the participants into their adult lives. From September 2022, the first step in this will be to re-contact the young people to track their progress through apprenticeships, employment, further education and A-levels.

Linking the study with administrative data will also help the researchers to follow outcomes for the groups in the cohort through the rest of their education and into the workplace.

To reflect the full range of experiences of the pandemic, they will particularly encourage participation from groups at risk of low response, including by inviting more young people to take part from disadvantaged, ethnic minority and other hard-to-reach groups, along with focussed follow-up.

The 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. This work will be funded by XTX Markets.

The team will design the new study to align closely with existing studies of children and young people in Scotland and Wales, so that all three studies can learn lessons about the effects of COVID-19 across Great Britain.

Fieldwork will be delivered by Kantar Public and NatCen Social Research.

The consortium is funded as part of UKRI’s COVID-19 Agile Call, which has so far invested more than £150M in over 400 projects and consortia to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.


  1. The UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO) creates cutting-edge research focused on equalising opportunities across the life course. It uses this research to improve education policy and wider practice to achieve this goal.
  2. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is a resource centre based at the UCL Social Research Institute. CLS is home to four national longitudinal cohort studies, which follow the lives of tens of thousands of people. The Centre is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
  3. The Sutton Trust was founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to improve social mobility in Britain. The Trust has influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions; its programmes have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives; and it has published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research.
  4. UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. It aims to maximise the contribution of each of its component parts, working individually and collectively. It works with its many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.
  5. Kantar Public is part of Kantar, the world’s leading insights and consulting company. It combines expertise in human understanding with advanced technologies to provide the evidence and advisory services for successful decision-making in government and the public sector. By delivering global best practice through local expertise, it helps its clients build a better public realm.


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