National study tracks effect of pandemic on students’ lives

Dad helping his teenager doing homework at home

A new study will follow the educational, career and wellbeing outcomes for 12,000 Year 11 students across England.

It will be the largest study of its kind to find out how the pandemic has affected them.

It will investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic affects educational attainment and wellbeing, longer-term educational and career outcomes, and socioeconomic inequalities in life chances.

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 & Equalising Opportunities and the Sutton Trust.

They will recruit a representative cohort of young people who are in Year 11 in the academic year 2020-21.

A generation-defining challenge

Dr Jake Anders, from the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities, who is leading the study, 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.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, said:

Over the last year, our research has highlighted the immediate and wide-ranging impact of the pandemic on children and young people particularly those from low and moderate-income backgrounds.

This major study should give us a clear picture of the long-term effects of the pandemic on this generation’s life chances.

The team will study how young people’s outcomes have been affected by disruption to their schooling. Particularly how students from less well-off backgrounds have been more likely to experience difficulties with home learning. For example, lack of access to computers and the internet for online learning, gaps in confidence, and less parental support.

Pupils’ experiences of the pandemic

Young people have been commenting on their experience.

Elif, Year 11, London, said:

Personally the school closures were a terrible experience. Missing out on in-person lessons has definitely affected me academically, and my plans for the future. I wanted to do an apprenticeship, but my teachers advised me it wouldn’t be smart because the year before us had to cancel their placements due to the pandemic. I’m now planning on doing a vocational course or a BTEC instead.

I’m anxious about our GCSE grades this year. I would rather pass or fail based on my own exam work than teacher-based assessments, which I am finding much more stressful.

Emily, Year 11, Nottingham, said:

My main concern after this difficult year is how accurate our teacher assessed grades will be. Personally, I want to achieve high GCSEs, so it’s a worry that teachers might be afraid to actually give out those grades. There’s been lots of miscommunication at my school throughout lockdown which has caused a lot of worry.

Invitation to take part in the study

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. These will be about their experiences and attitudes towards home-schooling 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.

Further information on the COSMO study

The study is funded to follow up the young people over at least 2 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 focused follow-up.

Aligning data on the effects of COVID-19 across Britain

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 work closely with existing studies of children and young people in Scotland and Wales to align data collection and ask similar questions, so that all 3 studies can learn lessons about the effects of COVID-19 across Great Britain.

The study will be conducted in collaboration with researchers from UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, with fieldwork delivered by Kantar Public and NatCen Social Research.

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

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