Consultation on online schooling

Launch of the Department for Education’s consultation to establish an accreditation scheme for online schools.

Response from Dr Bob Sproson, Director of Education, Red Balloon

“In today’s digital world, traditional teaching in classrooms is not always the most effective way for young people to learn. Online platforms open up new avenues for students to study in a manner which best suits their circumstances.

Current legislation makes it difficult for online providers to be formally registered as schools, despite the high quality of education that many offer.

Red Balloon has been pleased to work with other providers and the Department for Education to resolve this matter and today’s consultation is an important step. We hope it will bring regulation up to date with technological advances and the needs of our students.

At Red Balloon we support young people who have fallen out of mainstream education, some experiencing such acute social isolation that they cannot leave their homes. We know these students are just as capable as their peers but need intensive short term support, including mentoring, therapy and social skill development. We developed Red Balloon of the Air, an integrated online and face to face provision, to specifically meet their needs.

RBAir helps our students gain confidence, improve personal skills and continue their education without the pressure of leaving their homes – until they are ready to do so. They benefit from an integrated approach to education and mental wellbeing so they can grow as individuals and prepare for the next stages in their lives.

RBAir is delivered by leading teachers, therapists and mentors in the field, and is built on 23 years of Red Balloon experience of supporting young people who cannot go to school.

Support like ours transforms the way that some children learn, and we now need regulation to catch up. It is important that online provision is properly inspected, not least to ensure proper safeguarding is in place to protect vulnerable teenagers.

So we welcome the suggestion that a Quality Assurance Body be established to inspect online schools against agreed standards and report on their findings.

Including such provision within regulatory requirements will ensure online learning meets the standards rightly expected of all education providers.

Mainstream schools are not for everyone, but education should be. Regulation of online schools is a welcome step in ensuring all our young people can access the education they deserve, whatever their circumstances, and go on to thrive.”

How Red Balloon of the Air helped Molly turn her life around

Molly, RBAir student alumni

“My name is Molly and I’m a former pupil of Red Balloon of the Air.

From ever since I can remember, I’ve always been a nervous child. The shy girl. Introverted, but I was okay, keeping to myself. However once I began attending secondary school I found my shyness developed into a consuming, debilitating, anxiety of other people. This made attending school excruciating.

By 13, I was barely able to attend school. I’d always been the well behaved and worked hard but now, for the first time, I was being treated as a troublemaker.

My anxiety had been mistaken for laziness, simply unwillingness to attend school. ‘Truancy’ my school called it. My parents were even threatened with prosecution. As a result, I was forced to drop out of secondary school completely. I was stuck at home, by myself.

Two years passed by in which not only was I was I missing out on years of fundamental education but, on just living my own life.

I was completely miserable and isolated, itching for some normalcy. I didn’t feel like a teenager at all.

I’d started to give up on ever getting any GCSEs when I tried multiple times to attend other schools and found that again, I just couldn’t manage it no matter how much I wanted to. So, initially, when I heard about Red balloon of the Air, I was skeptical.

But, once it was explained to me the ways in which Red Balloon is specialised to cater especially to people like me (people with anxiety and mental health issues) for the first time in a long time, I was hopeful for the future.

It was hard at first. Communicating with other people, even if only over text was terrifying to me. I could barely press the keys on my keyboard because my hands would shake so much while I was in class.

But, with time, this gradual exposure made it easier to interact with others. After a month or so, I was asked by one of my teachers if I wanted to have some lessons where she would talk to us using voice chat. Of course I didn’t want to, the thought of it made me feel nauseous but I knew it was one of the necessary steps I needed to take to integrate myself back into society.

I am grateful for the continuous little pushes from teachers in class, pushing me to work harder, pushing me to talk to other students and from my mentor, Louise, pushing me to go outside, pushing me to try new things. My anxiety lessened and I was finally beginning to feel like myself again.

I studied as hard as I could that year at Red Balloon and, after taking my GCSEs, received good grades.

I am now at college in the midst of completing my international baccalaureate diploma and enjoy learning about a wide variety of subjects.

I continue to work as hard as I can and have been recommended to apply to Oxbridge. The change in my life can be explained as nothing less than drastic.

My story is not unique. Students all over the UK, for a whole variety of reasons including bullying, mental health and physical health issues, experience extenuating circumstances which lead them to not attending school. These students, like myself, are left behind – forgotten about by our school system. This is why the role Red Balloon plays in these students lives is so important.”

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