Study design and data

COSMO is a major national longitudinal study which is examining the unequal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath on the life chances of a generation of young people. Find out more about the study design and how we collect data.

The initial phase of the study consists of two annual waves of data collection from a representative sample of over 13,000 young people in Year 11 in the academic year 2020-21 across England.

Fieldwork for wave 1 of the study, known as ‘Horizons’ to its participants, began in autumn 2021, when the cohort started Year 12 or equivalent. Data collection for wave 2 started in autumn 2022, when the group were in Year 13 or equivalent. Both waves included surveys of young people, along with their parents.

The study intends to continue following the group through the rest of their education and early adulthood.

COSMO Cohort Timeline

Data Collection


COSMO used a multi-stage stratified cluster random probability sample from the National Pupil Database, with additional private school sampling, successfully recruiting more than 13,000 young people who were in Year 11 in 2020-21, attending over 500 schools across England. 

The study oversampled schools with higher proportions of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and ethnic minorities to ensure it reflects the full range of experiences of the pandemic. 

This oversampling, as well as targeted face-to-face follow ups, helped to guard against lower response rates from such groups and ensure minimum sample sizes among such groups for analysis of inequalities.

The Sutton Trust also commissioned an additional sub-sample of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with high potential, a group important for social mobility. This project, supported by XTX Markets, will enable understanding of the barriers to mobility faced by young people from different backgrounds, and inform the Trust’s policy advocacy work, as well as their programmatic work with young people.


Wave 1 data collection involved multi-mode web-first fieldwork (initial invite to an online survey, with targeted face-to-face follow up) with young people and parents between October 2021 and April 2022. 


Topics covered across wave 1 questionnaires include 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, as well as GCSE assessment in 2021 and the crucial post-16 transition.

Wave 1 Young Person Questionnaire

Wave 1 Parent Questionnaire

Data access and documentation

COSMO data and documentation is available through the UK Data Service.

It is hoped that survey data linked to the National Pupil Database will be available through the ONS Secure Research Service soon.

Read the Wave 1 User Guide.

Read the Wave 1 Technical Report - including Appendix AAppendix BAppendix C and Appendix 

Data collection

All young people who took part in Wave 1 (along with their main parent regardless of their Wave 1 participation) were invited to take part in wave 2.

Similar to wave 1, wave 2 comprised of a web-first survey approach with targeted telephone and face-to-face follow up, with data collection taking place between October 2022 and March 2023.

A total of more than 11,500 young people, and 10,200 parents participated.


Topics covered in wave 2 included greater detail on post-16 educational and training pathways, repeat measures on mental health and wellbeing, university and vocational plans, including apprenticeships, ongoing impacts of the pandemic, as well as the cost-of-living crisis.

Wave 2 Young Person Questionnaire 

Wave 2 Parent Questionnaire

A consultation on the content of wave 2 was carried out in February 2022. For more information about the consultation, see here.

Data Access and Documentation

Wave 2 data and documentation is now available through the UK Data Service.

It is hoped that survey data linked to the National Pupil Database will be available through the ONS Secure Research Service soon.

Read the Wave 2 User Guide.

The study was designed for linkage with administrative data from the National Pupil Database, the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, and other sources, including participation in university outreach activities through the Higher Education Access Tracker, higher education applications data from UCAS, and higher education participation data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA). 

These linkages will allow the study to follow the long-term educational and employment outcomes of the group, and understand the impact of COVID policy responses. Sign up to our mailing list to be informed when linkages are available to researchers.