Bullying has no place here

Issue: Volume 95, Number 9

Posted: 23 May 2016
Reference #: 1H9d22

Following the first Bullying-free NZ Week (16–20 May), Education Gazette talks to organisations behind this initiative and profiles three schools that feature on the newly launched Bullying-free NZ website.


Bullying continues to be a serious problem in New Zealand schools, with some studies indicating two-thirds of young New Zealanders will be involved in at least one bullying incident by the time they are 14, and one in 16 will be bullied weekly. While each school profiled in this story is very different, they are all using schoolwide (Positive Behaviour for Learning) approaches to build a positive culture that inhibits bullying.

A precious two years

It’s just gone 3pm on a sunny Wairarapa afternoon and Masterton Intermediate principal Russell Thompson is waving goodbye as students stream out of the school gates and onto waiting buses. Deputy principal Campbell Maunder is playing the guitar to farewell everyone, while pausing now and then for a chat or a laugh with students.

Russell returned to Masterton Intermediate as principal in mid-2014 after a three-year stint at another intermediate (he was formerly Masterton Intermediate’s deputy principal for 18 years). Since then, he’s brought in a mostly new leadership team, including Campbell (Cam), which has introduced many positive changes. So much so that the Education Review Office noted a significant reduction in the number of behavioural incidents in 2015, something that Russell and Cam attribute primarily to a greater focus on promoting student wellbeing.

“One of the key areas that we try and focus on as a schoolwide strategy to minimise the likelihood or the effects of bullying is to ensure that our kids are in a happy space and that they are feeling positive about themselves,” says Russell.

In 2015 the school introduced new pastoral care responsibilities where all teachers spend time before and after school talking with students.

“That happens every morning from 8.25 at the latest … then just making sure that we are out there … in time to see kids off for the day. To wish them well, to ask them about something we might have had a yack to them earlier in the day about – whether it’s start of the day or an interval or a lunch time or seeing them off, for us it’s the relationship that is key."

“You know that can be met with some resistance at first – [staff can think] ‘Well, that’s valuable time for me to finish my photocopying or nip in and just grab that last coffee before nine o’clock’ … so you know, we really had to just press on and say, ‘Look, we see the value in this’."

“And a year after our term review, we asked, ‘What was one of the main turnarounds for 2015? What do you think made a big difference?’ And staff said, ‘Pastoral care duty’. Just to see the change in the culture of the school is awesome,” he says.

Research shows that transitioning to a new school can increase the risk of bullying. Both Russell and Cam agree the transition to intermediate is a key time for extra support. At Masterton Intermediate, Year 8 students mentor Year 7s in composite classes, and both usually stay with the same classroom teacher for two years.

“These two years are short in intermediate and they’re a precious two years, so really building on that relationship that you build with your Year 7s and keeping them as Year 8s, that’s been the thinking behind that.”

Genuine student voice

An hour’s drive up the road at Dannevirke High School, Cameron Trigg is also roaming the school grounds chatting to students. Cameron is a student leader under the school’s whānau system, where vertical year groups of Year 9–13 students meet twice a day so that the older ones can check in on what’s happening with the younger ones.

Cameron is enthusiastic as he explains the whānau approach.

“The whānau groups help the bonding … the big students connect with the little students so that we don’t have as many issues. When we have people bullying … both the brothers and sisters, as well as the staff who are our parents, so to speak, we always will step in … hold on, this is not the whānau way – this is not how us as a whānau, as a family, would do this.”

Principal Dr Dawid de Villiers agrees.

“Vertical whānau groups have given us the tool to very effectively deal with bullying issues at quite an early stage. In a lot of cases it’s also about being proactive and the togetherness of the younger students with the older students, and everybody in between. We’ve definitely seen a shift towards more positive behaviour and definitely a lot less bullying throughout the school.”

Another key feature of the whānau system is genuine student voice. Dawid says that from the start students were recruited to lead the whole whānau concept within the school.

“It’s headed up by a whānau prefect and that person then accumulates students around them from all year groups – Year 9 right through to Year 13. The main focus for them is to make sure that the culture within the school stays that of having a family here on our campus.”

A safe culture

Down in Christchurch at Banks Avenue Primary School, students’ wellbeing is also a priority. Banks Avenue is located in Dallington, an area severely affected by the 2010/11 earthquakes. Those events significantly increased children transitioning in and out of the school, adding stress and risk of bullying.

Principal Toni Burnside explains the huge impact the earthquakes have had on the community.

“We’re seeing children coming to school with sleep disorders, attachment issues because parents have been wary of having them separated … we’ve got children who have a lot of trouble socialising with other children because they’ve been isolated,” she says.

Year 5 teacher Jan Thompson says student wellbeing has been a strong focus since the earthquakes.

“There’s also a student wellbeing team who decide on issues within the school where they can use their children’s voice to make a difference for other children,” she says.

“You need to develop a culture based on really sound values where students feel safe to be able to share how they’re feeling, where the students are given a voice and the evidence is being gathered to see what’s really going on within the school,” says Toni.

The importance of data

As well as promoting wellbeing and including student voice, research shows collecting and monitoring data is an essential part of bullying prevention. Dannevirke High School and Banks Avenue are fans of NZCER’s Wellbeing@School surveys.

Dawid says the surveys provide a useful gauge of the emotional climate at school.

“It gives us really good information about the culture within the school and how that is affecting the lives of our students. It is done anonymously, which means we really get good data,” he says.

Toni agrees. “We did the Wellbeing@School survey with all of our Year 6 students and that gave us some things to celebrate … but it’s also given us some things that we need to be looking at a little bit closer … So I’d strongly recommend that as a tool … it might give you some pleasant surprises and maybe some things that you were not aware of that you do need to work on.”

Cyberbullying is a focus for all three schools, but particularly at secondary level. Dawid says one of Dannevirke’s first Wellbeing@School surveys a few years ago alerted them to a marked increase in this type of bullying, compared with previous years. But instead of imposing restrictions on using social media, the school took a different approach.

“One of the things we started to do was to actually make use of Facebook as a teaching tool. Teachers were encouraged to open up closed groups for their subject work. Students very quickly learned … if I’m part of a subject group on Facebook, then people can see what I do on social media. And that started to reduce a lot of the negative comments and, let’s call it, attacks that were made on other students over time. To the point now where it hardly ever happens.”

All three principals strongly agree that bullying is an issue all schools face and it needs to be continually worked on.

“Are we a school that says that we don’t have any bullying? No, we’re not. We are saying that there are incidents of bullying and we try the very best we can to get them straightaway and try to keep them at a very low level – as opposed to probably 10 years ago when we were more inclined to be looking at the punishment,” says Russell.

“As principals we talk to each other quite regularly and I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘We don’t have any bullying at our school’,” says Dawid.

“Bullying is everywhere, and it is our responsibility to deal with it.”

Go to www.bullyingfree.nz(external link) for more interviews.

Bullying-Free NZ Week

Bullying-free NZ Week, 16–20 May, is the latest initiative from the Bullying Prevention Advisory Group (BPAG), a collaboration between 17 organisations, all committed to reducing bullying in New Zealand schools.

Secretary for Education Peter Hughes set up the group in 2013 after feedback from SPANZ and other sector groups indicated schools needed more support to manage bullying.

The Human Rights Commission, Office of the Children’s Commissioner and New Zealand Police quickly came on board, as well as NetSafe and representatives from across the education, social, justice and health sectors.

Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford says the key strength to this multi-agency approach is that everyone who needs to be in the room is in the room.

“That’s really important in bullying because, for example when parents or kids or schools approach the police, now they’re going to get a common response across the country. It’s also really important to have principals, teachers’ unions and the Boards of Trustees Association, ultimately that’s where the stuff’s going to get done.”

One of the first milestones for BPAG was the co-creation of the Bullying Prevention and Response: A Guide for Schools. This comprehensive bullying prevention guide features trusted information, peer-reviewed and approved by all agencies involved. The result was warmly welcomed by schools.

New Zealand Police’s community service manager Paula Holt thinks there’s been some great progress so far. 

“The Bullying Prevention Advisory Group has raised the importance of schools dealing comprehensively with bullying behaviour. And the Bullying Prevention and Response Guide for Schools is a really useful tool,” she says.

In May 2016 a new online resource for schools launched at www.bullyingfree.nz(external link). This features the experiences of schools and their students, as well as research, resources and other key content from the Bullying Prevention and Response Guide.

Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills notes that the website provides good access to the information schools need.

“This website is a really good example of taking the messages from the gGide, and what we’ve learnt from schools and young people, and making that more accessible."

“You can look at this website and know that what we’re suggesting has worked already in schools and can work in your school,” he says.

Secretary for Education Peter Hughes concludes, “My experience of this sector is that it’s full of really capable leaders and if you work with them in a way that’s respectful and empowering we can find good solutions.

“There’s no one programme or policy that’s going to fix this – it’s about changing attitudes and behaviour. It’s going to take a while, but there’s a huge amount of commitment to that process and goodwill – we’ve just got to keep at it.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:39 PM, 23 May 2016

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