Our students may live nearby or travel to our Centres from many miles away. We have a diverse group of young people with a range of aspirations and a variety of histories. Nonetheless there is a sense of community between them and, indeed, between the students and the staff and volunteers who are here to support them. The students are united by the fact that they have had significant struggles in the past and are now in a place where they feel safe and are beginning to feel stronger, happier and more successful.
All our students are provided with the highest level of personal support so that they can recover sufficiently and be confident enough to return to school or go on to college or into the workplace. The Centres have high staff to student ratios (typically 1:2) and take only up to 15 or 16 students at a time. This allows them each to be treated according to their needs.
Each student has a bespoke timetable, sometimes working in one-to-one lessons and at other times as part of a group. On any one day some of our students can be seen cooking, learning to play the piano, re-enacting Macbeth, dissecting lambs’ hearts, conjugating verbs and grappling with quadratic equations! Recently a student could be seen travelling from room to room undertaking a survey about what we believe happens after death, another was getting ready for a visit to a historic building, a third was about to have his weekly therapy session, several were preparing for the ‘speaking and listening’ component of their English GCSE.
The curriculum at Red Balloon includes academic subjects, such as English, maths, science, French and so on, practical subjects like woodwork and cookery, creative subjects – including music, art, drama, dance - and personal and social education as well – boys’ and girls’ groups, circle time, ethics and citizenship among other things. Broadly speaking, academic work takes up about 60% of the timetable. The other activities come under the broad heading of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’.
Severe bullying affects children and young people in many different ways. They can feel silenced, angry, resentful, unconfident, worthless, guilty, anxious, panicked. The Knowing Me, Knowing You (KMKY) part of the Red Balloon programme aims to teach our students to recognise their own emotions as well as to understand those of others, and to act and respond appropriately. Being a member of the Red Balloon community, participating in activities with the others – eating lunch together, playing rounders and basketball, taking a dog for a walk with a fellow student, watching a film together with a couple of others – all these and many more activities in the informal curriculum help to build students’ self-confidence as well as their ability to respond appropriately in different social situations.