Bullying in New Zealand Schools

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There is no doubt that bullying is a serious issue that all schools face. However, every school has its own processes for reporting, recording and responding to bullying. This makes it difficult to get a clear picture of how big the problem is, compared to other countries. More rigorous and systematic data collection would be required to know how often bullying really happens in New Zealand schools.

Is bullying an issue in NZ Schools?

Bullying happens at every school.  It takes many forms - physical, verbal and social - and it can happen in person, online and even via text message.

Studies show children and young people who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, lonely or anxious; to have low self-esteem and to struggle academically; dislike school and miss classes; distrust peers and have problems making friends; and experience declined mental and emotional health.

Several studies have looked at bullying in New Zealand schools using a range of definitions and approaches.

The Youth 2000 surveys(external link), carried out in 2001, 2007, 2012 and 2019 by the Adolescent Health Research Group at Auckland University, have found little change in rates of bullying in New Zealand schools over the past decade, with the exception of cyberbullying which is on the rise.

Both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2018/19 and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 Wellbeing reports(external link) show rates of bullying in New Zealand schools are high compared with many other countries and have been raising since the last PISA study 2015. 

Schools' responsibilities: Legislation and guidelines

National Administration Guideline 5 (NAG 5)

Under National Administration Guideline 5 (NAG 5), Boards of Trustees are required to:

  • provide and safe physical and emotional environment for students; and
  • 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 including bullying. Developing and implementing robust bullying prevention and response policies will help schools to make sure they their obligations to provide a safe learning environment for students.

Boards of Trustees also have responsibility for cybersafety under NAG 5 including providing a ‘cyber safe’ learning environment. Schools may wish to use NetSafe information and resources (external link)(external link) as a guide in this area.

Questions for Boards of Trustees, principals, senior leadership teams and teachers

  • How well are we doing on NAG 5? How do we know?
  • Do we maintain a safe physical and emotional environment in our school?
  • Have we considered the role of digital technology in the learning environment?
  • Have we considered using the Education Review Office (ERO) wellbeing for success indicators?

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 encourages a proactive approach to keeping people safe from harm.

For more information

Ministry of Education website for an overview of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015(external link), example policies and procedures, and useful tools.

Download the Health and Safety Practical Guide for Boards of Trustees and School Leaders(external link)

Other legal considerations

Other legislation and guidelines (in addition to NAG 5) that schools and Boards of Trustees need to be aware of in relation to bullying include:

  • Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989
  • Crimes Act 1961
  • Education Act 1989
  • Employment Relations Act 2000 
  • Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act 1993
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
  • Human Rights Act 1993
  • National AdministrationGuidelines
  • Privacy Act 1993
  • Secondary Teachers’ and Area School Teachers’ Collective Agreements
  • State Sector Act 1988
  • Victims’ Rights Act 2002
  • Vulnerable Children's Act 2014. 

 The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) Safety in Schools Toolkit (external link)explains the implications of many of these Acts for schools.

Further Information

For more on legal requirements

What happens when bullying occurs outside of school premises?

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.

Why does bullying occur and what are the implications for schools responding effectively to bullying?

Understanding why students engage in bullying is important, as it helps schools implement effective ways to build a safer and more caring school climate.

Previously, bullying has been mostly viewed as an interpersonal interaction between an initiator and a target.

As research on bullying grows, bullying is increasingly viewed as a socio-ecological phenomenon. This view looks beyond the individual and acknowledges the multiple risk and protective factors that exist within individuals, peer groups, families, schools, communities and the wider social environment. Therefore, it is important to explore how the community around students may affect their behaviour.

Therefore, systems-thinking or whole-school approaches to bullying are more likely to be effective rather than responses that only focus on individual students.

When bullying is viewed as a socio-ecological phenomenon it requires schools to implement a range of bullying prevention approaches. This includes fostering a safe and caring school climate where prosocial behaviours are promoted and students are offered opportunities to build their social competence.

Further Information

For further information on the core elements on an effective bullying prevention response, see Preventing Bullying - Whole-School approach

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For more on theories of bullying, refer to Wellbeing@School: Building a safe and caring school climate that deters bullying, NZ Council for Education Research, Sally Boyd & Helena Barwick