Red Balloon was conceived as an answer to a problem that came about when Carrie Herbert, an educational consultant, became aware that there were children absenting themselves from school as a result of bullying behaviour. When she delivered INSET training on Countering Bullying to teachers in the early and mid nineties, teachers would talk openly about one child here, another child there, having dropped out of school because of bullying and that the school had been not only unable to deal with the bullying but had been unable to keep up with the teaching while the child was at home.
As a result the child languished there; not only getting more behind in their studies but also more and more depressed with the fact that not only did they feel bullied but they now felt abandoned by the powers that be.
Carrie was aware that for many people the problem was the bullying, and continued to work in schools countering bullying and providing ideas, strategies, solutions to reduce its incidence, deal with those children who were doing the bullying and support those who were being bullied.
However, the problem of children who, through no fault of their own, were too frightened to attend school, in other words truants by necessity, did not go away. Over the next few months Carrie and her colleague Ruth Loshak discussed the setting up of a safe place for these children’s education.
In 1995 Carrie’s niece stopped going to school because of bullying. Carrie set up a home education programme for her – her mother did not go out to work, the family was able to afford to buy in tutors, and Carrie and Ruth were able to offer their support. But what could families who were not in such a situation do to make sure that their child was not missing out on education?
In the following few weeks Carrie and Ruth contacted the Local Education Authority and Dr Sproson, in charge of Education Other than at School, came out to discuss the possibility of sending severely bullied children to a special centre. He looked around Carrie’s house and remarked that he would be pleased to send children there.
From starting in November 1996 with one, by July 1997 eight children were arriving daily to begin their recovery programme and rebuild their lives. In the next twelve months this number would rise to twelve and, ultimately, fifteen children at each Red Balloon.
Since 1996 the provision has expanded: four more Centres have opened and a fifth, a virtual on-line provider, began offering full-time education in 2011. More recently the remit of Red Balloon has extended to include children who have suffered trauma, such as the death of a parent, abuse, rape or other experience that makes it impossible for them to attend a mainstream school. Many of the young people we take have temporary mental health issues.
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