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The Song Room

Ralph Saubern
Learning and Development Manager, The Song Room

The Song Room is a national not-for-profit organisation that provides learning opportunities to disadvantaged children through music and the creative arts. The Song Room's vision is that all Australian children have the opportunity to participate in music and the arts to enhance their education, personal development and community involvement.

The organisation has drawn on international research providing strong evidence that arts-based education improves children's learning and social development. Such programs have been found to improve concentration, language learning, reading and cross-disciplinary skills; enhance skills in communication and teamwork; encourage classroom participation and self-directed learning; improve students' self-esteem and self-confidence; and lift school retention rates (Fiske 1999).

So far The Song Room has reached over 170,000 disadvantaged children and youth and provides long-term programs in over 200 schools and communities a year in every State and Territory, reaching a further 45,000 disadvantaged children each year.

The Song Room target groups

The Song Room's programs are targeted to various low-SES, high-needs and locationally disadvantaged communities.

One group are refugees and new migrants. As well as improving these students' English language and literacy skills, art and music programs are often valuable forums for storytelling, which can aid trauma recovery for newly arrived refugees (Francis & Cornfoot 2007). Importantly, art and music programs offer these students an opportunity to achieve and excel in a levelled playing field (Fiske, 1999).

Another target group are youth who are disengaged or have behavioural challenges, and children living in high crime areas. A number of Australian and international studies have identified the long-term value of music and arts programs in schools in helping young offenders to re-engage with their school community and the broader society, and in reducing anti-social behaviour and juvenile crime rates (Hughes 2005).

The value of arts activities for Indigenous children and youth, particularly in remote areas, has been highlighted by the Productivity Commission (SCRGSP 2007). To support these groups The Song Room runs programs in urban and rural schools with high proportions of Indigenous students, and in a number of school clusters and outreach schools in remote communities in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Other children targeted for help include very young children in disadvantaged settings, children with learning and health challenges, and children in geographically isolated and remote regions.

School involvement

The Song Room offers two levels of support to such schools.

The first level is membership of The Song Room Online, a website for participating schools that provides access to a range of resources. As The Song Room Online caters particularly to schools without music/arts specialists, the resources are designed for generalist teachers. The website offers teaching and curriculum resources for download; information and advice on how to build sustainable creative arts programs in a school; and opportunities to participate in performance events. It also offers structured professional development workshops and mentoring for classroom teachers; online music and creative arts activities for children; links to other websites with creative arts resources; and an e-newsletter with information on the latest support, tools, programs and performances.

Membership of The Song Room Online is limited to schools serving disadvantaged and high needs communities and costs $100 per annum. A full list of membership criteria and application details are available from the site.

The Song Room also offers more intensive, onsite programs for selected member schools. These are long-term programs that are free to the school, tailored to specific, identified needs. Key components include:

  • tailored workshop programs by locally based Teaching Artists
  • performance programs with arts/community partners
  • community holiday programs
  • school and community capacity building.

The core component is the tailored workshop programs. The Song Room consults with the school to develop a program in which a Teaching Artist is placed in the school to conduct weekly workshops in the school’s classes for a minimum of six months. The schools are also provided musical instruments, teacher professional development, external performance opportunities, access to arts and culture events, and other resources that equip them to continue delivering music education programs after the completion of the workshop program.

The Teaching Artists come from a range of backgrounds with speciality in different art forms, including singing, music, dancing, acting, and circus performance. Some of the Teachers Artists also have a qualification in education, while others are youth workers, psychologists or social workers.

A key feature of the program is the way it matches the needs of the school with the skills and experience of a particular Teaching Artist. So, for example, in a school or teaching unit where there are particular concerns over juvenile crime and student disconnection, the selected Teaching Artist might have a social- or youth-work background and run a drumming/percussion program, which have proved popular in these environments. In a school with a high proportion of LBOTE students, a Teaching Artist with an education background might run a singing/songwriting program.

Evaluation of The Song Room programs

The Song Room has a strong focus on research and evaluation. All school workshop programs are rigorously evaluated, and feedback is used to further improve the model. In addition, with significant funding secured from one of its major donors, the Macquarie Group Foundation, The Song Room commissioned a large-scale research project to examine the overall impact of its programs.

The first phase of the project was an extensive literature review of research into the impact of art-based education, conducted by the University of Melbourne. Completed last year, the review has informed the second phase of the project, which commenced in 2009 and will continue through 2010. Three projects are reviewing the impact of The Song Room programs in specific contexts: refugee youth in settlement phase (particularly in relation to their educational and social settlement); early intervention in the prevention of juvenile crime (where positive school engagement is a key protective factor); and Indigenous youth (where educational and health outcomes are critical). Various universities and independent research organisations have been engaged to conduct these reviews. A fourth project conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research will analyse arts-based interventions across a range of program types, including the impact on school attendance, attitudes and engagement. A preliminary report will be released in March 2010.


Applications for membership and school workshop programs can be found on The Song Room website: http://songroom.org.au/school/becoming-a-member.

For more information, schools can contact The Song Room via email at enquiries@songroom.org.au.


Trewin, Dennis & Madden, Richard (2005), The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

Australian Music Association (2001), Australian Attitudes to Music.

Bryce, J; Mendelovits J; Beavis, A & McQueen, J (2002), Evaluation of School-based Arts Education Programs in Australian Schools, Australian Council for Education Research, Melbourne.

Fiske, E (Ed) (1999), Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, Arts Education Partnership, Washington DC.

Francis, S & Cornfoot, S (2007), Multicultural Youth in Australia: Settlement and Transition, Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY), Melbourne.

Hughes, J (2005), Doing the Arts Justice: A Review of Research Literature, Theory and Practice, DCMS, the Department for Education and Skills, and Arts Council England, UK.

Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (RRAC) (2002), Strategy for Refugee Young People. Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra.

Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2007), Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007, Productivity Commission, Canberra.

Weatherburn, D (2001), 'What Causes Crime?' Crime and Justice Bulletin, No 54, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Arts in education
Socially disadvantaged
Social life and customs
Educational planning
Educational evaluation
Curriculum planning
Behaviour management
Behavioural problems
Aboriginal students