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COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities Study (COSMO)

This major new youth cohort study will provide vital new evidence on how the COVID-19 pandemic affects 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), 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

Partners

Background

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 will study a representative sample of young people in Year 11 across England, and follow them as they progress through their education. 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.

Funding

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.

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. 

Methodology

Data collection

The initial phase of the study will conduct two annual waves of data collection from a random probability sample of 12,000 young people in Year 11 in the academic year 2020-21 across England. 

Fieldwork will begin in autumn 2021, surveying these young people, along with their parents and schools. First findings from the study will be published in early 2022. 

Sampling

The study will disproportionately sample 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 targeting face-to-face follow ups, will help to guard against lower response rates from such groups. Further, the Sutton Trust will commission 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.

Questionnaires

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. 

The school survey will be conducted by telephone, and will focus on general questions about school provision and disruption during the pandemic, rather than questions about specific pupils.

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.

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