Red Balloon

Developing MoE in the RB Learning Centres

We have been working with Red Balloon since 2015 helping to develop Mantle of the Expert across their learning centres. Below is a summary of the project, if you would like to know more click on the link to the project report, published in 2017. If you have any questions, please use the ‘contact’ form at the top of the page.

Red Balloon Learning Centres
Red Balloon is a family of learning centres operating in five areas – Cambridge, Norwich, North West London, Reading, Braintree. There is a sixth provision Red Balloon of the Air an online Centre which theoretically can take children on the programme from anywhere in the UK. The Centres are for children, who because of trauma, bullying or other events and circumstances are for the time being unable to attend mainstream school. The aim is to help them regain their self-esteem and confidence, get back on an academic track and return to mainstream education. The charity has three fundamental interlocking elements: education, wellbeing /therapy and community. It is the combination of these three components which enables over 90% of children and young people to return to a mainstream setting to continue their educational journey. Founded in 1996, Red Balloon works with children and young people between the ages of 9 and 19. For more information visit:

This project is a long-term training and support programme with two foundational elements:
1. To train self-selected members of the Red Balloon staff in the use of an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning called Mantle of the Expert.
2. To support these staff members in their use of Mantle of the Expert with the students in the Red Balloon Centres.

The project has six aims
1. To help students at the Red Balloon Learner Centres to develop and improve their life skills. In particular, to help them to think about their own and other people’s values, to look at problems from different perspectives, to explore different emotions, and to experiment with different roles.
2. For students to develop knowledge, skills and understanding across a range of subjects areas and to make connections.
3. To develop students’ speaking, listening, and communication skills.
4. To create a ‘community of inquiry’, where students collaborate with each other and with the staff (teachers, therapists, student support, regional mentors) to solve problems, tackle dilemmas, create resources, and develop their imagination.
5. To create a working environment where students feel they can take risks, take responsibility, make contributions based on their strengths, and develop a sense of belonging.
6. To develop the staff skills and professional knowledge in the use of inquiry and drama.

The importance of the project for Red Balloon students
Many Red Balloon students arrive from mainstream education having lost their confidence to speak out, communicate with their peers, tackle learning confidently and question.. Many are quiet and withdrawn and have come to believe that their views are worthless and their feelings invalid. In such circumstances Red Balloon students can find it difficult to take risks and to believe in themselves and the strength/validity of their ideas. Mantle of the Expert is an inquiry approach that creates fictional scenarios for communities of students to explore and develop using their imagination and interests. Mantle of the Expert creates a ‘safe area’ for them to try out new ideas and ways of being and gives them the opportunity to work in a collaborative way that draws on their strengths. In this safe area they can take on the responsibility of being people in authority and make decisions with the safety net of it being imaginary. It is a kind of ‘practice zone’ for life, with all the tension, excitement, danger and peril, but with without the consequences that come with the real world.

The importance of the project for Red Balloon staff
While Red Balloon offers drama lessons and community-based activities, such as circle-time, across its various learning centres, a community of inquiry approach such as Mantle of the Expert is not something that has been used in the past. This project will give the staff the opportunity to develop their practice and to try out new skills. There is a particular emphasis on questioning, collaborative working, and the use of the conventions of dramatic action.

Click here to read the full Report.