John’s story

A Red Balloon student

John started at Red Balloon of the Air after experiencing bullying at his primary school in rural Cambridgeshire. His experiences made it difficult for him to transition to secondary school where he felt thrown in at the deep end and unsupported. John got bullied there too.

“I’d given secondary school a chance but thought that every education institution must be this awful. So I wouldn’t go any more. The local authority told the school that they had to send work home for me, but they kept sending the same bit of work every time, and then stopped giving me any altogether.

“So, from the time I was 13-14, I was home-schooled by my brother. I swear that for at least two years I barely ever left the house.

“I didn’t have many social skills because I’d spent so much time out of education and not mixing with other children”.

Finding Red Balloon

“Eventually Parents Partnership told my family about Red Balloon of the Air. I think it honestly saved my life. I don’t know where I’d be otherwise. It’s helped so much. When everyone else gave up on me – apart from my family of course – Red Balloon was the only organisation that was there for me.

“I had two mentors during my time, Christina and Caroline. They really just visited my mother to start with as I was so shy that I’d just say hello and run away. But over time I got used to them and now I still talk to Caroline quite a lot.

“When I was at secondary school, they’d push me to go faster and faster, and that just made me shut down. But Red Balloon didn’t push me; I just took everything at my own pace. I started taking lessons for an hour here and an hour there, and in the end I was studying from nine to three.

“The teachers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met”.

“I took my lessons online, and joined in with online student socialising on Google chats too. I met a few students in the real world, but I met most of them online. We’d talk about the lessons but also things that interest us. I’d talk about my animals, and there were quite a few us who cared about animals.

“I did four GCSEs, and sat the exams at Red Balloon’s offices. I took double-science, maths and English and got the results I needed; now I’m studying biomedical sciences at my local Regional College.

My future’s bright

“My Red Balloon mentor helped me make the move to college. I stayed in contact with her in case anything went wrong, or I needed to talk. She became like a ‘middle woman’ between me and the college.

“I took it slow and the college was understanding which was weird because it was so different from my other experiences of mainstream education. I started one hour a day and now I’ve worked up to three days a week. The college gave me a support worker and she accompanied me to lessons. I’m now doing one day a week without her, and am working up to attending more days on my own. I don’t feel so panicky now I’m in my second year.

“I’ve finally found my passion and that’s microbiology. I’m focusing on trying to get to university to do microbiology, so I’m reading university level books so I can try and get ahead.

“If anyone’s being bullied, I would honestly say go to Red Balloon. I don’t know where I’d be without it”.

“I used to be really sad when I thought about the past, now I just think about the future. The past doesn’t make me feel sad any more, thanks to Red Balloon.”