IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities Study (COSMO)

This major new youth cohort study is providing vital new evidence on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected socio-economic inequalities in life chances.

COSMO seeks to generate high-quality evidence to answer the central research question of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected socio-economic inequalities in life chances, in terms of short-term effects on educational attainment and well-being, and long-term educational and career outcomes.

Team and partners

The study is a cross-organisation collaboration led by Dr Jake Anders, with Professor Lindsey Macmillan and Dr Gill Wyness (UCL CEPEO), Carl Cullinane (Sutton Trust), and Professors Lisa Calderwood and Alissa Goodman (UCL CLS), Dr. Praveetha Patalay (UCL CLS and MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing) with Kantar Public as lead fieldwork agency.

The team combines world-leading expertise in educational inequalities, social mobility, analysis of longitudinal data, and the design and management of cohort studies:

  • UCL CEPEO are scientific leads on the project, designing content and leading on analysis, while UCL CLS provide world-class knowledge on survey design and management.
  • Sutton Trust will leverage its extensive experience in communicating research to a wide audience and policy influence to lead on maximising the impact of the findings.
  • Kantar Public will conduct the fieldwork along with NatCen Social Research, while and provide technical expertise on sampling, sample recruitment, fieldwork, and sample management.

The project is supported by key stakeholders, including the Department for Education, the Office for Students, ADR UK, the Education Endowment Foundation, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO), to ensure co-production of policy-relevant evidence.

UCL team



The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining challenge, and its impact on young people’s lives has been unprecedented. School pupils are at a crucial stage of their development, and disruption to their learning could have profound long-term effects on their life chances.

Initial evidence has already suggested that the impacts have been felt unevenly, particularly by those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This poses a unique challenge for education policy and practice.

To work towards alleviating these impacts, and in particular the disproportionate burden on those from certain groups, it is vital that we understand them.

About this study

Study overview

COSMO is a longitudinal cohort study. It is studying a representative sample of young people across England who were in Year 11 in academic year 2020-21, and follow them as they progress through their education and into the labour market.

Existing studies have looked cross-sectionally at pupils in school at a variety of ages, however this study seeks to complement this work by harnessing the power of longitudinal research to capture a cohort experiencing the pandemic at the same stage of their development.

Pupils currently in Year 11 are at a crucial stage in their education: the first point where young people take significant choices about their pathways, with long term consequences for their life trajectories. Having experienced two school years in a row of serious disruption, along with uncertainty about and ultimately cancellation of their GCSEs, they must now make these transitions with little time for schools to recover.


The first two years of the study will be funded with £4.6m by UKRI/ESRC, in addition, the Sutton Trust invest in ‘add ons’ to the main study, focusing on disadvantaged young people.

In the longer term, the study aims to provide a resource for the research community to explore medium and long-term effects on this group of young people as they move through further and higher education and into the labour market.

The data will be made available to academic researchers through the UK Data Service.

See outputs below.

Key goal

Achieving policy impact through this high-quality evidence is a key goal for the project. The impact of the pandemic on this generation of young people is likely to be profound. It is hoped that this study will fill an important gap in understanding these medium- and long-term effects on young people completing their education and moving into the labour market at this unprecedented time. 


Data collection

The initial phase of the study is conducting two annual waves of data collection from a random probability sample of over 13,000 young people who were in Year 11 in the academic year 2020-21 across England.

Fieldwork for Wave 1 began in autumn 2021, and for Wave 2 began in autumn 2022, surveying these young people, along with their parents.


The study disproportionately sampled young people from disadvantaged, ethnic minority and other hard-to-reach groups to ensure it reflects the full range of experiences of the pandemic. 

This over-sampling, as well as targeted face-to-face follow up interviewing, is helping to guard against lower response rates from such groups. Further, the Sutton Trust has commissioned an additional sub-sample of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with high potential, a group important for social mobility, in order to understand the different barriers faced by young people from different backgrounds, and inform its future policy advocacy and programmatic work.


Topics covered across questionnaires will 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. 

Other data sources

The study will be augmented with administrative data from the National Pupil Database, the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, and other sources. For example, we are aiming to including information on participation in the National Tutoring Programme.

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.


Wave 1 - Initial Findings

Privacy Notice for participants in the sampling frame

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