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Longitudinal study to track outcomes of Covid-19 cohort

Image: Trakto Creative Design, via Shutterstock

UKRI-funded project will follow students as they apply for universities with predicted GCSE grades

A major longitudinal study tracking the life chances of young people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic will be launched later this year.

The study, funded with a £4.6 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, will follow the education, career and wellbeing outcomes for students who are in Year 11 in the 2020-21 academic year.

A cohort of 12,000 students in England will be tracked from this autumn over at least two years as the take A-levels, apprenticeships or other further study, with the aim of collecting more data from the students as they start their adult lives.

The study will explore how students’ educational destinations and career paths have been impacted by the Covid-19 disruption to their schooling, which saw them spend a significant portion of their GCSE years learning from home. Like students taking A-levels this summer, they will also receive grades based on their teachers’ assessments of their work.

Jake Anders, a UCL associate professor in educational and social statistics who is leading the study, told Research Professional News that the study “will give us some ideas about the extent of inequality and how it is affecting particular groups”, which would be of interest to universities “particularly if they’re thinking about contextualising admissions…which we would say they should be”.

He added that “universities do need to be very mindful” of the fact that “there are biases within teacher predictions” in the grades for this cohort, although he stressed that teachers are not to blame and setting students’ exam results is “basically an impossible task that they are being asked to do”.

Outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who were most likely to struggle with home learning due to poor digital access, less parental support and lower levels of confidence than their peers, will be followed closely in the study.

The Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities study will be led by researchers at University College London’s Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities and the Sutton Trust social mobility charity.

Alison Park, interim director of the Economic and Social Research Council—which funded the study under UKRI—said the project offered “a unique opportunity to understand how the pandemic has affected students during a particularly critical year of their schooling”.

“It will provide key insights about how disruptions including home learning have affected students’ work, confidence and attainment,” she added. “Crucially, it will allow researchers to look in detail at the experience of those who have been hardest hit, such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”