School Leaders: Responding to bullying incidents

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National Administration Guideline 5

There is a range of legislation and guidelines, including National Administration Guideline 5 (NAG 5), which schools and boards of trustees may need to consider in relation to bullying.

The NAG 5 elements that apply to bullying for Board of Trustees are:

a) provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students; and

c) comply in full with any legislation currently in force or that may be developed to ensure the safety of students and employees.

NAG 5 covers a number of aspects of school life in addition to bullying. However, developing and implementing bullying policies will help schools ensure they are meeting their obligation to provide a safe environment for students.

For further information on the range of legislation and guidelines schools need to be aware of, refer to: Schools responsibilities: Legislation and Guidelines

Responding to bullying incidents

Responding to bullying incidents should be part of a school’s wider bullying prevention policies and procedures. A school’s policies should describe how the school will respond to all reports of bullying, including serious incidents.

The policy and procedures should describe:

  • discipline approaches, including escalation processes and responding to cyberbullying
  • how the school will communicate with students and parents/whānau about bullying incidents
  • process for managing complaints
  • when the school will involve other agencies
  • how the school will respond to bullying that takes place outside of school premises, but is affecting students' wellbeing at school.

As with wider bullying prevention policies, teachers, students, parents and whānau should all have an opportunity to have input into the school’s policies on responding to bullying incidents.

Responding to cyberbullying incidents

While many schools have specific procedures in place to handle cyberbullying incidents, the same principles should apply in responding to any kind of bullying.

School policies should make it clear that the school will act to address any reports of cyberbullying and provide details of the steps that will be taken.

Schools should support the target to help them build coping strategies and resilience to prevent the bullying reoccurring. This applies to bullying occurring through any social media.

Staff can legally confiscate a device (phone or tablet) or an electronic item (such as a text or photo) if they believe it's likely to:

  • endanger the physical or metal safety of others
  • negatively affect the learning environment.

If schools want offensive online material removed, they should:

  • first identify the person responsible (if possible) and ask them to take down the material
  • request a provider (for example, Facebook) to remove the page using their 'reporting' options
  • seek advice from NetSafe

NetSafe provides advice and resources to support schools to manage cyberbullying incidents. 

Contact NetSafe (external link) soon after an incident has occurred for free, specialist advice.

Online crime reporting

NetSafe's - The Orb (external link) offers a simple and secure way to report concerns about online incidents. If an offence may have been committed, schools should contact their local police station and provide as much evidence as possible. 

Schools should save offending text messages, take screen shots of any abuse online and call 111 if the incident is sufficiently serious.

Managing bullying incidents: issues to consider

  • Have we considered alternatives to formal discipline when bullying happens in our school?
  • When do we use disciplinary procedures, are they part of a more comprehensive response?
  • Do our processes support both the targets and initiators of bullying?
  • Do we have processes in place to ensure initiators of bullying also receive the support they need?
  • Do we have good links with our school community officer? Are they aware of our policies and processes around bullying?
  • Are our processes for managing cyberbullying in line with guidance provided by the Ministry of Education's Digital Technology, Safe and responsible use in schools (external link) ?
  • If digital technology is involved in bullying, has it been managed in accordance with the guidance provided in the Digital Technology, Safe and responsible use in schools (external link) ?

Bullying that occurs outside of school

Bullying often happens out of school grounds, after school hours or online.  Bullying ‘outside school’ can often continue inside school and vice-versa. Young people's relationships are not so neatly defined, and the concept of ‘outside school’ starts to become irrelevant when young people’s interactions are more and more a blend of in school, in their communities, offline and online.

Schools are increasingly involved in incidents where the activities of students at home or in their own time have an impact on the life of the school; for example creating and posting harmful content on social media, using their own smartphone or computer, whether at school or not. It can affect a student’s wellbeing no matter where it happens. 

Schools have the responsibility and power to act when it is reasonable to expect that what's occurred could have a negative impact on the school's learning environment. Trying to pinpoint where and when the bullying took place may be less helpful than asking ‘what effect is this having on the student/s involved and how will we respond?’

If signs of bullying such as absenteeism or other worrying behaviour are noticed by school staff, or if anyone reports bullying to school staff, it’s important to investigate and take action, regardless of where and when it happened.

Bullying assessment matrix

This assessment tool is designed to support you when bullying happens. 

It can help you assess the severity, impact and frequency of a specific incident.

Then, combined with your professional judgement, knowledge of each student and the results can help you form an appropriate response.

Depending in their resilience and capability, affected students could be involved in making the assessment.

Where an incident involves serious assult or sexual abuse, schools should not try and investigate themselves, and instead contact local police and/or Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Vulnerable Children (external link) , immediately.

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Bullying assessment matrix

The bullying assessment matrix enables you to assess the severity, impact and frequency of a bullying incident.

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