Wave 1 Initial Findings  |  Press release

Landmark study shows the impact of the pandemic on young people

By COSMO on October 13th, 2022.

Majority of students report that academic progress has suffered and future plans have changed due to the pandemic

  • A staggering 80% of young people say their academic progress has suffered as a result of the pandemic and half report feeling less motivated to study and learn.

  • State school pupils are more than twice as likely to feel that they have fallen behind their classmates than independent school pupils.

  • Nearly half (45%) of all pupils don’t believe they have been able to catch up with lost learning.

  • Almost half of young people have accessed no catch-up education and a large majority have not accessed tutoring.

The COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study, led jointly by the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies and the Sutton Trust, is the largest study of its kind into the impacts of the pandemic on young people’s life chances. The first findings, published today, provide concerning new insights on this generation’s progress following the disruption caused by the pandemic. The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, is following a representative sample of over 13,000 young people across England who were in Year 11 in 2021. Most of the cohort have just begun Year 13 and are due to take A Levels in summer 2023, with others undertaking other qualifications, training and work.

Over three quarters (80%) of the study’s participants believe their academic progress has suffered and half say they are now less motivated to study and learn as a result of the pandemic. 37% of those at state schools feel they have fallen behind their classmates – more than double the figure for independent school students (15%).

As a result of substantial inequalities between schools in remote learning during lockdowns, the study examined opportunities for catch-up learning. Almost half of young people have accessed no catch-up learning at all and a large majority have not accessed tutoring. The most available option – extra online classes – was offered to just half of the study’s participants and taken up by less than a third. When asked whether they have been able to catch up with learning lost during the pandemic, 45% of students disagree while only 36% agree. Almost half (46%) of students at comprehensive schools say they have not been able to catch up with learning, a significantly higher proportion than those at independent schools (27%).

Despite extra tutoring being a core element of the government’s catch-up strategy, independent school students are more likely to have been offered this than those at comprehensive schools (52% vs 41%), and are more likely to have taken part in additional online classes. However, when extra tutoring was offered to those at comprehensives, they were more likely to take this up than their independent school counterparts. Better off families were also more likely to pay for private tutoring when schools re-opened in 2021, with 19% of parents with a child in the least deprived fifth of state comprehensive schools doing so, compared to 4% for those from the most deprived.

The researchers say that support offered for catch-up across all school years in England is three times lower per person than funding provided for the US rescue plan for schools (currently totalling around £4.9 billion compared with a $122 billion rescue plan in the US, the equivalent of about £15.5 billion in England adjusting for population size).

The findings show the pandemic has had a major impact on young people’s future plans. Of those who had previously made plans, almost two thirds (64%) say their education plans have changed because of the pandemic and three in five (60%) have changed their future career plans. Girls, young people from disadvantaged family backgrounds, and those attending state comprehensive schools were more likely than their counterparts to have changed their plans. Young people who had ‘long COVID’ or ill health, who were asked to shield or who experienced economic hardships were also much more likely to have done so.

Examples of changes to plans shared by the Sutton Trust’s COSMO youth panel (not participants of the main COSMO study) include struggling to enter careers in sectors where work experience was unavailable during lockdowns, and reconsidering career aspirations to protect long-term mental health.

Dr Jake Anders, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), and COSMO’s Principal Investigator, said:

“COSMO is providing vital new evidence on the effects of the pandemic on the lives of young people, with strong signs that it has severely widened existing inequalities – this has not been fully addressed by our policy response. And these short-term effects are just the start. We aim to continue following the lives of this cohort over the coming years. Whether or not we think of the pandemic as over, its effects will continue to cast a long shadow, and COSMO will help us to understand this in the years to come.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“These findings show that far more needs to be done for young people. While all young people have been affected by the pandemic, there is clear evidence that students from less well-off households have been impacted most. Funding provided so far for catch-up has been a drop in the ocean. It’s less than a third of what is required and it’s at a level three times lower per person than in the US. The government’s education recovery plan must be much more ambitious, or we will blight the life chances of a whole generation.”


The COVID Social Mobility and Opportunity (COSMO) Study is a major national youth cohort study which is examining the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational inequality, wellbeing and social mobility. The study is a collaboration led by the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), the Sutton Trust and the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, and is funded with a grant from UK Research and Innovation.

The first wave of the study recruited a sample of over 13,000 young people attending over 500 schools across England who had been due to take their GCSEs in 2021. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.

Fieldwork (conducted by Kantar Public) was conducted online and face to face with young people and parents between October 2021 and April 2022. The sample used in these briefings includes 12,828 young people, of whom 9,330 also had a parent complete the survey.

The level of deprivation at state comprehensive schools was categorised into five groups based on the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals.

Data from the study will be available from the UK Data Service from 13th October to researchers across the UK and worldwide.

The Sutton Trust COSMO Youth Panel is a group of students from across the country who were in the same year group as COSMO participants. The panel is separate to the COSMO study itself, however all its members are applicants to Sutton Trust programmes who have faced disadvantages and barriers of various kinds. They have been appointed by the Trust to help give a voice to the experiences of this generation of young people.

About The Sutton Trust

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.

About UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO)

The UCL Centre for Education Policy & 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.

About UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS)

The UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) scientifically leads and manages multiple internationally renowned cohort studies, including: 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS); 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70); Next Steps and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). It creates and enables multidisciplinary research and policy evidence to improve lives, analysing change over the life course and the reasons behind it.

About UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

UKRI works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our 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.

About the Economic and Social Research Council

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. We fund world-leading research, data and post-graduate training in the economic, behavioural, social and data sciences to understand people and the world around us. Our work helps raise productivity, address climate change, improve public services and generate a prosperous, inclusive, healthy and secure society. www.ukri.org/esrc