School closures will have a significant impact on social mobility for the ‘covid generation’ unless significant efforts are made to address the impact on learning, according to new research by London Economics for the Sutton Trust.  

This study uses estimates of lost learning due to school closures in the spring, to estimate the potential impact on earnings later in life for those from different socio-economic backgrounds, and the chances of becoming socially mobile. As cases of Covid-19 rise across the country amid the threat of local lockdowns, individual school closures and ‘bubbles’ going into self-isolation, the analysis is an urgent reminder of the impact of young people, especially the most disadvantaged, missing out on school. 

The researchers found that the long-term impact of school closures on future earnings is more than three times higher for those from less-well off homes as those from advantaged backgrounds. On average, across the cohort of Year 11 students in 2019-20 in England, the projected loss in earnings over a 20 year period due to missed learning since March, is £3,830 for young men from low socio-economic backgrounds, and £1,150 for those from high socio-economic backgrounds.  

As a consequence, the researchers estimate that the proportion of boys from low socio-economic backgrounds being amongst the highest earners in later life is expected to drop from 16.3% to 15.0%. This means that for lower-income boys, their chances of becoming socially mobile has dropped by 7.5%. For girls, the impact is slightly less, with their chances of becoming socially mobile dropping by 4.5%. Overall, this represents a significant negative impact on social mobility.   

For just this one year group in England, the overall economic cost of missed learning is likely to be at least £1.6 billion.  Based on this estimate for this one year group the economic cost of all those in secondary school would be in excess of £11 billion. 

While all pupils will have lost out on learning as a result of school closures, the impact on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is likely to have been more pronounced. This is in part due to access to remote learning and the average number of hours of learning undertaken. Survey evidence published by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) estimated that the perceived learning loss for pupils in the most deprived schools was, on average, 3.7 months, compared to 2.4 months in the least deprived schools 

Unless considerable efforts are made to redress this balance, today’s report warns that this learning loss will have a significant impact on current pupils’ chance of becoming socially mobile in the future.   

To mitigate against this, the Sutton Trust would like to see vast resources targeted at disadvantaged pupils. Problems in lack of access to digital devices for online learning have not gone away, and further investment is needed so that the digital divide does not deepen further this year. 

The Trust’s sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is delivering the £76m Tuition Partners pilar of the National Tutoring Programme. Through this initiative, schools will be able to access heavily subsidised tutoring from an approved list of Tuition Partners from November.  

While this is a welcome and evidence-based investment in disadvantaged pupils, it is only one part of a bigger solution. Crucially, the Trust would like to see the pupil premium protected in real terms and further funding support given for disadvantaged groups. 

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 

“Our new research shows just how much young people – and particularly those from lower-income backgrounds – have lost out as a result of school closures.   

The researchers found that the negative impact of school closures on future earnings is more than three times higher for those from disadvantaged backgrounds than those from advantaged backgrounds.  For just one year group the overall economic cost of missed learning is likely to be at least £1.6 billion.  Based on this estimate for this one year group the economic cost of all those in secondary school would be in excess of £11 billion. 

“To mitigate against this the Sutton Trust would like to see significantly more resources targeted at disadvantaged pupils such as access to digital devices and services for online learning and resources for small group tuition.” 

Dr. Gavan Conlon, Partner at London Economics and one of the authors of the report, said: 

“Young people – especially those from less well-off backgrounds – will have been severely impacted by the loss in learning resulting from school closures. However, they are also likely to suffer from more limited labour market opportunities in the longer term.”  

Maike Halterbeck, Associate Director at London Economics added:

“There needs to be significant investment from the government to rectify these losses and to support the recent social mobility gains that have been achieved. This report provides the government with the economic evidence to support this much needed investment.”        


  • The Sutton Trust is committed to improving social mobility from birth to the workplace. Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has supported over 30,000 young people through evidence-led programmes and published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, many of which have influenced government policy. 
  • London Economics is a leading education and labour markets consultancy. Committed to delivering independent world-class research, London Economics delivers a broad range of research and analysis to central government, charities, think-tanks, higher education institutions, representative organisations, university mission groups and unions. For more information, please visit or follow us on twitter @LE_Education  
  • Methods:  London Economics estimated the wage and employment effect associated with the possession of an additional year of post-compulsory schooling – for those without higher education – by gender and socioeconomic group (SEG) using data from the UK Labour Force Survey between 2014 and 2019. 
  • Information on school closures, the reduction in learning received by secondary school pupils during lockdown (by SEG), and estimates of the effectiveness of remote learning (by SEG) were combined to estimate the extent of lost learning during lockdown (by SEG). 
  • As the impact of learning loss in later lifer is likely concentrated amongst those without higher education qualifications, the analysis was adjusted for different progression rates to higher education by SEG.  
  • Combining the information sources and assuming a 20-year persistency effect, the analysis estimated the economic loss to the representative student in after-tax earnings associated with the loss in learning during lockdown. The process was repeated in respect of the loss in taxation receipts by the Exchequer, with the results aggregated to reflect the size of the 2019-20 Year 11 cohort of students in England.   

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