Risk 9: Ongoing impacts of coronavirus

Students may be affected by the ongoing consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.


Access to school for students varied a lot during the coronavirus pandemic. This may result in differential knowledge and skills, and ability to adapt to a higher education environment.

Experiencing this risk is likely to impact a student at the access, on-course and at the progression stages of their education.

  • The full effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still unknown. However, the differential experiences of students during their primary and secondary education is likely to have an effect on attainment rates at Key Stage 1 to 5, and to result in lower progression rates to higher education for students from certain backgrounds.
  • It may also lead to lower on-course attainment rates for some students, and to a greater need for on-course academic support.
  • Where such support is not provided, it may further lead to poorer outcomes in terms of progression rates to the labour market for some students.

Students who are:

  • from a low household income
  • disabled
  • care experienced.

We have based the groups here on the available literature, but recognise that many young people who experienced severe educational disruption during the coronavirus pandemic have only just entered higher education, or are yet to do so. As a result, the evidence underlying the impact of coronavirus on higher education studies is still limited.

Note that the ordering does not denote a scale or ranking system.


It is important to consider how different student characteristics might interact with each other, and with school and areas-based characteristics. Providers may also wish to consider whether the mode of study heightens a risk. It is therefore recommended that providers consider intersectionality closely when looking at their own data.

For different groups of students, the impact of these risks that are visible in data might be:

  • lower application rates
  • lower on-course attainment rates
  • higher proportions of students accessing and/or needing academic support
  • lower continuation rates
  • lower proportions of students progressing to further study
  • lower proportions of students progressing into employment.

Although this is a national risk, the extent to which it is seen at each provider may depend on factors such as:

  • entrance tariff
  • location
  • whether the provider recruits locally or nationally
  • the extent of on-course academic and personal support.

We therefore encourage providers to examine their own data to establish if this risk to equality of opportunity affects their current or potential student population.

Access HE (2021). ‘Best Laid Plans: London's 'Covid Cohort' and Progression to Higher Education’. (Accessed 12/01/2024)    

Anders, J., Macmillan, L., Sturgis, P. & Wyness, G. (2021). ‘Inequalities in young peoples’ educational experiences and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic’ (CEPEO Working Paper No. 21-08). Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, UCL.         

Andrew, A., Cattan, S., Costa Dias, M., Farquharson, C., Kraftman, L., Krutikova, S., Phimister, A., and Sevilla, A. (2020c), ‘Learning during the Lockdown: Real-Time Data on Children’s Experiences during Home Learning’, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Briefing Note 288     

Ashworth, E, Kirkby, J, Bray, L and Alghrani, A (2021) ‘The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Education, Health and Social Care Provision for Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)’. The Ask, Listen, Act Study. Evidence Briefing 1: Quantitative survey data. Discussion Paper. LJMU.         

Cattan, S., Farquharson, C., Krutikova, S., Phimister, A., Salisbury, A., and Sevilla, A. (2021a), ‘Home Learning Experiences through the COVID-19 Pandemic’, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Report 195.                

Cecilia A. Essau, Alejandro de la Torre-Luque (2021) ‘Adolescent psychopathological profiles and the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic: Longitudinal findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study’, Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, Volume 110,2021,110330, ISSN 0278-5846, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2021.110330.    

Cullinane, C., Yarde, J., Shao, X., Anders, J., De Gennaro, A., Holt-White, E., & Montacute, R. (2023). ‘Wave 1 Initial Findings – Financial Inequalities and the Pandemic. COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities study’ (COSMO) Briefing No. 6. London: UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities & Sutton Trust.         

Elliot Major, L., Eyles, A., and Machin, S. (2020), ‘Generation COVID: Emerging Work and Education Inequalities’, Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), COVID-19 Analysis, Paper 011.;               

London School of Economics (2021). ‘Journeys into higher education and employment: The impact of covid-19 on young people’.     

Major, L. E., Eyles, A. and Machin, S. (2020). ‘Generation COVID: Emerging work and education inequalities’. 

Office for Health and improvement disparities (2022) ‘Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance: report. Children and young people’.  (Accessed 12/12/2023)

Paterson, J., McCarthy, M. & Triantafyllopoulou, P. (2024) ‘The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities in the UK: A scoping review’. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 24, 12–24.                 

Sharp, C., Nelson, J., Lucas, M., Julius, J., McCrone, T. & Sims, D. (2020). ‘Schools' Responses to COVID-19: The Challenges Facing Schools and Pupils in September 2020’. National Foundation for Educational Research.

Published 29 March 2023
Last updated 18 January 2024
18 January 2024
We have published a list of references that informed this risk.

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