Before a student is accepted at a Red Balloon they must satisfy three conditions:
RBs were established with the primary aim of providing a fulltime education for children who have self-excluded from mainstream school because of severe bullying or other trauma. The aim is to raise a student’s self-esteem, enable them to come to terms with what has happened, help them learn how to deal with difficult situations, and get them back on an academic track in order that they return to education. It is a ‘transitional intensive care’ Centre where children come for a period of time, typically three terms. It is not a place where children come with the intention of seeing out their statutory education.
About 300 children and young people have attended RBs since 1996. The one feature they have all had in common is that they had stopped going to mainstream school because they were frightened, felt they would be ‘picked on’, further humiliated or fearful that they would be assaulted. In many of the cases the children had been out of school for weeks, months and, in some cases, years. This situation of non-attendance had occurred maybe as a result of a being bullied because they had suffered a trauma such as rape or assault, a family tragedy such as the death of a parent, their parents’ messy divorce, or they had missed a considerable amount of school already because of an accident or severe illness such as cancer.
Once they stop going to school and believe it is their fault, they can develop mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, social phobia, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts; over 50% of the children at RB Centres have seriously thought about suicide or have attempted it.
Our students have varied widely in age, background, ability and interests. On occasion we have taken ten-year-olds and young people of 16 or 17, but most of the students in our Centres are between 14 and 15.
Some come from single-parent families, others have step-fathers, some have siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings, others are only children. Some have been ‘high-flyers’, some have found academic work difficult. Some love creative subjects, some are musical, some read only factual books, some do not read books at all. We have had children from the independent sector and children from low-income homes, from migrant families and from established local families. We have had redheads, blondes, mixed-race, gay, disabled, looked-after, adopted, fat, thin, tall, short children.
Children who self-exclude from mainstream school or attend irregularly because of trauma brought on by bullying or some other event or circumstance and satisfy our criteria are the type of child for whom RB was set up, who benefits and who succeeds.