The Arrowsmith Program in Sydney Catholic Schools

What is the Arrowsmith Program?

The Arrowsmith Program is an innovative cognitive training intervention. It is an approach to learning that is based on neuroscience research which demonstrates that it is possible for students to strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions through specific cognitive exercises. The Arrowsmith Program identifies students’ learning strengths and weaknesses through careful assessment. Then a program of individualised exercises is designed for each student to target their precise areas of weakness. In this way Arrowsmith removes individual Arrowsmith addresses nineteen cognitive functions. A full list of what these functions are can be found on the Arrowsmith website (

Who established the Arrowsmith Program?

Arrowsmith was established in 1978 by Canadian Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and documented in her book (Arrowsmith-Young, 2012). It has operated for over thirty years in Canada and has spread to the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Nine Australian schools, and five New Zealand schools currently offer the Arrowsmith

What learning difficulties can be improved through the Arrowsmith Program?

The Arrowsmith Program is suitable for students across the broad spectrum of mild to severe learning problems. It has proven effective for students having difficulty with reading, writing, mathematics, comprehension, logical reasoning, problem solving, visual and auditory memory, non-verbal learning, attention, sequencing, processing speed and dyslexia. After a three or four year cognitive training intervention, students are able to capitalize on their increased learning capacities and can function without special education assistance. After completing the program some students may require one to two years to gain experience using their newly strengthened cognitive capacities and some students may need tutoring initially to bring academic skills to grade level.

Who are ideal Arrowsmith students?

A suitable student for the Arrowsmith Program would have a combination of some of the 19 identified learning dysfunctions. They would be of average or above average intelligence. The program is not designed for students with severe intellectual, cognitive, emotional or behavioural disorders, acquired brain injury or an autism spectrum disorder. 

Students entering the Arrowsmith Program have ordinarily been experiencing a range of problems including  

  • reading
  • writing
  • mathematics
  • comprehension
  • logical reasoning
  • visual memory
  • auditory memory
  • dyslexia
  • non-verbal learning
  • auditory processing
  • attention

Is My Child a Suitable Candidate For The Arrowsmith Program?

This is the link will take you to the Arrowsmith online questionnaire. This questionnaire may help to determine if an individual could benefit from the Arrowsmith Program. It considers an individual’s learning experiences and how they may be impacted by the cognitive functions addressed in the Arrowsmith Program. You can complete the questionnaire for yourself or on behalf of a child.

Read more

What is Catholic Education Office (CEO) Sydney’s involvement in the Arrowsmith Program?

CEO Sydney has a strong commitment to the support of students with learning and wellbeing needs, and the fostering of evidence-based practice in education. Recent the Arrowsmith Program was adopted as a form of this support. 

In the past many Australian families moved to Canada in order to access the Arrowsmith Program. In 2013 Catholic Education Office (CEO) Sydney became the first school system to open an Arrowsmith classroom in the southern hemisphere. The first Australian Arrowsmith classroom opened at Casimir College Marrickville and was offered to high school students with identified learning difficulties. Students in the Casimir Arrowsmith classroom continue to do well and preliminary research indicates very positive outcomes for these particular students.

After the success of the high school program, CEO Sydney opened a second Arrowsmith classroom at Holy Innocent’s Croydon. This is an Arrowsmith classroom for primary school aged children. We have 20 students who range from Year 2 to Year 6. Our students attend Arrowsmith classes for half of their school day and their Grade Academic class for the other half of the school day.

How are children motivated to remain engaged while in the Arrowsmith classroom?

Active engagement is an essential factor in creating cognitive change. Engagement is maximized by:

  • Setting cognitive exercises at the appropriate level of difficulty for each individual student so they are achievable;
  • Setting individualised goals for each student;
  • Ensuring a positive, supportive and structure learning environment;
  • Keeping student to teacher ratio at 1:10 or less;
  • Enabling students to work independently with frequent teacher monitoring and feedback;
  • Building self-esteem by developing competence;
  • Celebrating successes.

The Arrowsmith Program’s Research Base

The Arrowsmith Program is founded on two lines of research, one of which established that different areas of the brain working together are responsible for complex mental activities, such as reading or writing, and that a weakness in one area can affect a number of different learning processes. The other line of research investigated the principle of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to physically change in response to stimulus and activity, to develop new neuronal/synaptic interconnections and thereby develop and adapt new functions and roles believed to be the physical mechanism of learning. Neuroplasticity refers to structural and functional changes in the brain that are brought about by training and experience.

Research in neuroscience is leading to new insights into the ways in which the brain changes in response to experience. Evidence strongly suggests that the brain is not static but rather is dynamically changing and undergoes such changes throughout one's entire life.

How is Arrowsmith Different to Other Educational Interventions?

Students with learning disabilities have traditionally been treated with programs designed to compensate for their difficulties. For example, students who have difficulty with handwriting, would be taught to use a keyboard or accommodated with more time to write in exams.

The goal of the Arrowsmith Program, by contrast, is to help students strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions. The Arrowsmith Program deals with the root causes of the learning disability rather than managing its symptoms.

The Arrowsmith Program is capacity-based in that it changes the capacity of the individual to learn, rather than trying to work around the problem. Permanently strengthening these weaker capacities increases the overall functioning of these specific cognitive areas allowing them to be used effectively for learning.

The Arrowsmith Program has proven successful with students in primary school through to post-secondary school and with adults. Primary school students return to a full academic curriculum at their appropriate grade level following the completion of a three or four year program.

What are the goals of the Arrowsmith Program?

The goals of the Arrowsmith Program are:

  • to strengthen students’ cognitive capacities underlying their learning difficulties
  • to develop students’ desire to become effective, life-long, self-motivated, self-directed learners
  • to develop and maintain students’ confidence and a sense of their self-worth
  • to enable students to achieve their goals of academic and career success.

How can I apply for my child to attend an Arrowsmith Classroom in a CEO Sydney School?

If you wish to make application for your child to attend an Arrowsmith Program classroom please follow these steps:

1. Complete and send this Initial Contact Form or contact the CEO directly on 9569 6111.
2. You will be contacted by a member of CEO Sydney staff
3. If there is a place available for your child, you will be asked to send in
- A recent psychometric report indicating your child’s IQ
- Your child’s last 2 school reports
4. If there is a place available you will be called for an interview at CEO Sydney
5. If you are offered a place in Arrowsmith you will be asked to contact the school principal at Sacred Heart Mosman, Holy Innocent’s Croydon or Casimir College Marrickville for an interview
6. If accepted into the school you will be asked to bring your child to an orientation day
7. Your child will be administered the Arrowsmith Assessment which can take up to two days
8. When the results of your child’s Arrowsmith Assessment arrive back from Canada, your child will be given their Individual Learning Profile

Some Resources

  • You can read more about the development of the Arrowsmith methodology in the book “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” (2012) by Barbara Arrowsmith Young
  • 60 Minutes Program on Arrowsmith from May 2014
  • 7:30 Report from November 2014
  • Barbara's Ted Talk
  • This book by Dr Howard Eaton is a collection of stories of children with learning disabilities and attention disorders who changed their lives by improving their cognitive functioning
  • Arrowsmith Newsletter which can be subscribed to
  • Channel 9 News Program about Arrowsmith at The Benevolent Society Brisbane