Children think faster- pilot ACO Foundations program takes off

Following the very positive learning, physical and behavioural outcomes of the program’s pilot year at St Marys North Public School throughout 2018, this innovative Foundations program will continue in 2019.

Children think faster- pilot ACO Foundations program takes off


“It has improved their executive functioning, their working memory, their self-regulation, and we’re seeing that in the classroom. What we’ve seen in this little group of Year 1 students is that we now have a group of students who are attending school in far higher numbers than
the rest of the school population.” – Lisa Parrello, Principal, St Mary’s North Public School

The ACO Foundations program provides primary school students in disadvantaged schools with free instrumental and classroom music lessons, with the aim of not only giving them access to quality music education but also improving their cognitive, emotional and behavioural development.

“The students are thinking faster,  taking more risks in their learning and managing themselves so much better after one year in the ACO Foundations program” – Year 1 Teacher, St Mary’s North “Music makes me feel calmer and helps me focus” – Violin Student, St Mary’s North Public School

“If a principal from another school came to me and asked if it was worth implementing the ACO Foundations Program, I would say ‘YES’, 100 times over.” – Lisa Parrello, Principal, St Mary’s North Public School

Throughout 2018, the ACO provided one class of twenty Year 1 students at Western Sydney’s St Marys North Primary School each with a violin or cello, and integrated instrumental music teaching into their classroom curriculum. This included weekly group music lessons with a specialist music teacher, daily classroom practice sessions led by their classroom teachers and supported by video resources, frequent music development sessions for classroom teachers, and regular, hands-on visits from the professional musicians of the ACO.

Designed by leading Australian string instrumental teacher Frances Firth in collaboration with the ACO, the program is evaluated by award-winning educator and researcher Dr Anita Collins and academics from The School of Economics at the University of Sydney to study the effects of access to quality music education on life outcomes.

According to Dr Anita Collins, providing primary school children with regular music lessons will greatly improve their cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes. “Providing young children with opportunities to learn a musical instrument has been proven in numerous worldwide studies to significantly improve their emotional, physical, social and cognitive development,” said Dr Collins. “However the current state of music education throughout Australian public school classrooms is shockingly behind the music tuition provided at their independent school counterparts. “The ACO Foundations program seeks to improve the learning outcomes of students in underserved public schools through providing them with the opportunity to learn a musical instrument at a critical time in their development.”

While the ACO are still in the process of collating data from the pilot program, benefits from participating in the ACO Foundations program have already been identified. These were revealed through comparing the learning and behavioural outcomes of the Year 1 class participating in the program with their Year 1 peers in other classes at the school. The outcomes of the program include:

Behavioural Development: › Increased classroom attendance rates; › Improved behaviour in students who previously exhibited intense anger or depressive symptoms; › Improved concentration, and ability to exhibit self-control.

Improved Academic Outcomes: › Significant improvement in reading and auditory skills; › Improved writing skills – both the physical ability to write and use of expressive language and vocabulary.

Physical Development: › Improvement in core strength, muscle tone and posture; › Considerable improvement in fine motor skills.


St Marys North Public School has an Australian ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) score average of 871 compared with the national average of 1000. Relative to the rest of the country, 70% of school’s students are in the bottom quarter of ICSEA value, versus an Australian distribution of 25%. 24% of students at St Marys North Public School are Indigenous and 23% students are from non-English speaking backgrounds. 70% of students are from single-parent families who are supported solely on the welfare system.


ACO Foundations will continue as a pilot program at St Marys North Public school throughout 2019, with plans for expansion from 2020.


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