Schools & Commissioners

Red Balloon student doing a science experiment
Robert Watson, Director of Education

About our Learner Centres

Red Balloon Learner Centres were established with the primary aim of providing a full-time education for children who have self-excluded from mainstream school because of severe bullying or other trauma.

The aim is to raise their self-esteem, enable them to come to terms with what has happened and help them learn how to deal with difficult situations. Ultimately, we want to help students get back on an academic track so they can return to education or move on to college or work.

Rob Watson, Director of Education

Children outside Red Balloon Cambridge

Our three conditions

Before a student is accepted at a Red Balloon they must agree to three conditions:

  • They want to be at Red Balloon and will attend regularly
  • They want to learn and make academic progress
  • They will behave with respect and consideration to the other students, the staff, the property and any pets we might have.

Our typical student profile

The one feature that our students all have in common is that they had stopped going to mainstream school because they were frightened and felt they would be ‘picked on’ or humiliated. In many of instances, children have been out of school for weeks, months and, in some cases, years.

Why children self-exclude from school varies. It might be as a result of being bullied, because they’ve suffered a trauma, a tragedy in the family or their parents’ messy divorce. Also, they may have missed a considerable amount of school already because of an accident or severe illness.

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 our learner centres have seriously thought about suicide or attempted it.

Our students vary in age, background, ability and interests. Most are between 14 and 15, although on occasion we take children as young as ten, and as old as 17.

Some come from single-parent or blended families. Some have siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings, while others are only children. Some are ‘high-flyers’ while others find academic work difficult. Some love creative subjects and some are musical, while others only only factual books, or indeed no books at all. We have children from the independent sector and children from low-income homes, from migrant families and from established local families.

Frequently asked questions

Our stories

  • Red Balloon of the Air student

    "I don't know where I'd be without RBAir. The past doesn’t make me feel sad any more, now I just think about the future.”

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  • Anna - A Red Balloon of the Air student

    “One of the best things at the start was the online and face-to-face therapy Red Balloon offers. It doesn’t feel like therapy; it just feels like chatting to someone about your life".

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  • Eve tells her story

    “I want to do the things I used to do with ease and took for granted, like walking to the shop for sweets or going on holiday.”

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  • Peter's story

    "I wouldn’t have had my voice if it weren’t for Red Balloon".

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