Jack was one of the early students with Red Balloon of the Air. To mark our 25th anniversary, Jack has kindly agreed to share his journey, from his difficult experiences at secondary school to learning with Red Balloon and pursuing further education.
Coming from a deprived area, the secondary schools in town ranged from “bad” to “so utterly terrible it makes Lord of the Flies look like heaven on earth”. When I finished primary, I was put into one of the latter.
I’m actually quite hesitant to list the things which went on at that school, because it genuinely sounds unbelievable. Suffice it to say they had two riots in the space of six months, only one of which made the local paper.
Immediately after starting, I was bullied. As it got worse, I began self harming until there were bright red scratches and bite marks on my arms. My parents did everything they could to sort things, and the school did everything they could to brush it under the carpet: an anti-bullying officer insisted there was no bullying at all in the school even as the headteacher was breaking down in tears on a regular basis. You used to see him outside the school gates with a cigarette in one hand and a tissue in the other, quietly bawling his eyes out.
Three months after I started, I had a mental breakdown in front of a pair of bullies. I started biting my arm to bleeding point while screaming at the top of my lungs. Nobody came to help – the yard was always unsupervised – and the bullies thought it was hilarious.
After this incident, my parents asked one of the only good teachers if the school could guarantee my safety. She said no, so my Mum and stepdad pulled me out for home-schooling. It was something I’ll always be grateful for, not least because the council started sending us letters threatening legal action unless I came back.
Finding Red Balloon
For a long period there wasn’t anything we could do apart from make some attempt at home-schooling. Truth be told, I don’t remember much from that time – I think my brain must’ve blocked it out. Then, by a stroke of luck, we came across Red Balloon.
We wanted to get a Red Balloon school set up in my town, but I was suffering with PTSD and unable to leave the house. Luckily, it was around that time they set up an online programme called Red Balloon of the Air. They gave me a laptop which I could use to access online sessions, and I can honestly say I learned more from one lesson of Red Balloon than I did from the whole of comprehensive.
More than that, though, it was a way to move back to normality. It was a way to keep up with my education at a time when nobody else would offer it. I continued Red Balloon until securing a place at a special school, where I slowly expanded my timetable from one hour a week to full time.
From then, I used the knowledge I’d gained from Red Balloon to finish my GCSEs. I went to a special college and built upon those skills to complete my A levels. At the time of writing, I’ve just graduated from university with a first class degree, and am currently set to do a masters’ course in the same subject.
I’m extremely grateful to Red Balloon for getting me back into education. It’s no exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for them, everything I’ve done over the past ten years would have been literally impossible.