IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


COVID-19 impact on young peoples' learning, motivation, wellbeing, and aspirations

A study looking into whether the pandemic and unprecedented school closures affected secondary school pupils in England.

This research will provide rigorous timely evidence to policy makers and education leaders on the differential effects of the pandemic and school closures, including cancellation of exams, on pupils' transitions, motivations, wellbeing, and aspirations.

The project was designed in partnership with Kantar, Department for Education (DfE), and Wellcome, following up members of the 2019 Science Education Tracker (SET), an established representative survey of secondary school pupils in England.

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Project timeline: September 2020 - September 2021.


The project combines world-leading expertise in design and analysis of large-scale survey data with disciplinary expertise in educational inequalities. Our centre has partnered with the DfE and Wellcome to ensure the co-production of policy-relevant evidence.



The study will assess whether 1) prolonged periods of school closures, 2) the cancellation of examinations and 3) experiences of returning to education, have differential impacts on wellbeing, motivations, and transitions into further and higher education by socio-economic status (SES), gender and ethnicity.

It will also ask whether these experiences have changed pupils’ aspirations for further study and future careers, as well as providing insight into the mechanisms that drive these changes, including differences in home learning experiences.

While the study is restricted to England, the findings are likely to be highly relevant to the devolved nations, which have experienced similar periods of school closures, exam cancellations, and home schooling.


The project will link the survey to the 2019 SET data on pupil demographics alongside information on subject choices, educational and occupational aspirations. This also allows the team to track changes in pupils’ aspirations for further education and future careers over 12 unprecedented months.

The survey will also be linked to the Department for Education’s (DfE) National Pupil Database (NPD), which will allow the team to control for prior achievement and school-level differences. A stratified random sample was drawn from the Department for Education’s (DfE) National Pupil Database (NPD) and Individualised Learner Records (ILR), with young people completing the questionnaire online.

The fieldwork took place in November 2020 to January 2021, as many young people settled back into education in the Autumn term. This provides timely evidence during a crucial period of schools and colleges re-opening.