UCL News


Four-fifths of school students say pandemic harmed their education

13 October 2022

Four-fifths of students say their academic progress has suffered due to the pandemic, with state school pupils more than twice as likely to feel that they have fallen behind their classmates than independent school pupils, according to a new study led by UCL researchers.

Asian girl are sitting stressed studying online with a tutor on a laptop while sitting in the bedroom at home night. Concept online learning at home

Published today, the findings are the first to be published from the COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study – a major national youth cohort study analysing data on around 13,000 young people from more than 500 schools across England. A collaboration between the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and the Sutton Trust, the ongoing project aims to explore the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational inequality, wellbeing and social mobility.

The study shows that four-fifths (80%) of the study’s 12,828 participants, who are due to complete A-levels and equivalent qualifications in summer 2023, believe their academic progress has suffered because of the pandemic – with half saying they are now less motivated to study and learn. Over 35% of those at state schools feel they have fallen behind their classmates – more than double the figure for independent school students (15%).

The authors found that almost half of young people have accessed no catch-up learning 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 said they disagree while only 36% agree. Almost half (46%) of students at comprehensive schools said 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.

COSMO Principal Investigator, Dr Jake Anders (UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities) (CEPEO), 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.”

The findings show the pandemic has also had a major impact on young people’s plans. Of those who had previously made plans, almost two thirds (64%) say these have changed because of the pandemic and three in five (60%) have changed their future career aspirations.

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.

Furthermore, the study highlights differences in school type and location, and university aspiration. While 98% of participants who were privately educated and 92% of those who attended state grammar schools reported that they were likely to apply for university, 68% of those attending state comprehensive schools say they plan to do so, falling to just 40% of those in the most deprived schools.

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 five 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.”




Media contact
Evie Calder

Tel: +44 20 7679 8557
E: e.calder [at] ucl.ac.uk