Research and insights

We are an evidence based organisation, and are passionate about sharing insights from others which inspire or shape our practice. Watch this space as we will add papers or articles of interest on an on-going basis and please get in touch if there is something you would like to share with us.

Academic partnership

Helm are proud to work in partnership with the Dundee University’s School of Education and Social Work, whose Community Learning Development team are led by Professor Divya Jindal Snape. The CLD team are our action research partners and some students from each year of the undergraduate course also complete their placements and (new this year) will also complete their research assignments at Helm each year. A key research specialism in the CLD team is a focus on important transitions in life, and this makes their work a perfect fit for Helm, as our focus is to support our students to make the best possible transition into adult life.

What are non-cognitive skills and why are they important?

There is a large amount of academic research which focuses on the central importance to life chances of what are called “non-cognitive skills”. These are skills or attributes which are really at the heart of everyone’s success at school, college and work, and which we can all see and appreciate in others. Interestingly they also are the attributes which every employer wants, but which no-one routinely measures.

These are things like confidence, resilience, self-esteem, conscientiousness, empathy, curiosity and open-ness to learning, and the ability to work well with others.

We are much better as a society at measuring cognitive skills instead (eg. literacy and numeracy) using traditional examinations and assessments, despite the recognised underlying importance of non-cognitive skills.

Evidence into practice : What works and why

So if these skills are so important, can we actually do anything to foster their development? If things for example have not worked out so well for you until your mid-teens can anything be done to improve your confidence or resilience? We believe the answer is an emphatic “yes”, but we also know that how we design and deliver programmes matters to ensure our work has most impact – both now and into the future of our students once they leave Helm.

A literature review paper is attached which provides a great summary of this field of work. The review contains useful and clear definitions of all non-cognitive skills and concludes that the youthwork programmes in which students have the best chance of success are ones which include all of these strands:

– Social and Emotional Support
– Volunteering
– Mentoring
– Outdoors activities

How does our practice reflects this learning to date?
Social and Emotional Support

Our experienced keyworkers work on an inclusive and non-judgemental basis, and have always provided integrated social and emotional support for all our students. As part of our improvement journey to become a leading edge practitioner we have also recently strengthened our support for students through the role of Student Wellbeing manager, and we work alongside a wide range of specialist agencies to facilitate solutions to any issue.


Here at Helm we have always used volunteering in social enterprise, charity and workplace settings as an integral part of all our students’ employability skills development.


We have also just introduced our new community mentoring programme which now will provide trained mentoring support for Helm students by a group of staff from Tokheim, one of Dundee’s largest employers, whose state of the art facility leads Europe in productivity in their field. These staff are generously given time by their employer to volunteer to mentor our students who are moving on to jobs and college places. This will now give our students ongoing support from people in the community as they make their transition into adult life beyond Helm. Mentors will also help Helm staff track student success, which will give us access to longitudinal data on how students sustain their success, which in turn will provide valuable insights to continually improve our practice, and to help funding partners assess the impact of their support. The CLD team at Dundee University are evaluating our first pilot in 2017, with results expected by March 18.

Outdoors Activities

See more information below “What’s round the Corner”

Measuring what's working

Although we know that non-cognitive skills are essential to sustained success, and we know that our students improve in these critical areas every day they work with us, as mentioned above they are hard to define, and hard to measure. We have spent time sifting through much research and learning from others also on this journey, looking for a valid and accepted method to trial at Helm.

  • Staff at Helm have therefore now started training in the recognised “mental toughness” measurement methodology. developed by Dr Peter Clough, which is the first methodology we are going to trial.
Mental toughness : what is it ?

This work originated in understanding sporting performance and has now widened to include industry and education. Dr Clough is based at Manchester Metropolitan University, and works also in this field with University of Basle; University of Lincoln; University of Leeds, University of Newcastle and the University of Edinburgh.

More information is available here; Clough, Earle and Sewelll (2002).

We will be running our first pilot in 2017. We then expect the careful application of this approach over time to contribute to our practice, with benefits expected as follows:

  • It will enable Helm students to lead their own development and see their progress for themselves using this clear and easily understood methodology
  • As it linked also to an interpretive coaching approach, we expect our ability to support growth in these skills to continue to improve
  • There is credible evidence that these key measures have significant bearing on chances of success in life, which is why they are increasingly used in industry, professional sports development and higher education. Helm students will now be able to use their results will help them achieve destinations of their choice when they are applying for college places and jobs.
  • We will also be able to show our funding partners evidence of how their support has contributed directly and unequivocally to our students’ improved personal development and therefore their chances of sustainable success as happy and productive adults.
What's around the corner ?

We are currently exploring funding partnerships to support a new development of a strand of outdoors activities and assessment, which will be a really exciting new development. Anyone interested in further evidence of the effectiveness of outdoors activities in building relationships and enhancing success in education can read the attached paper here.

  • With this addition, our practice at Helm will then include all strands of support and activities which have been evidenced to provide students with the best chance of success.