Student-led drive to stop bullying in Far North

Issue: Volume 97, Number 15

Posted: 23 August 2018
Reference #: 1H9kCv

A one-on-one approach led by students to tackle bullying is succeeding at Kaitaia College – without the need for adult intervention.

Bullying is an issue that has been affecting the community of Kaitaia well beyond the school gates, but intervention by student leaders is turning the tide.

Three years ago the school began a review, which Principal Jack Saxon describes as “a reimagining and revaluing”, that involved every stakeholder, including whānau and the wider educational community, to change the school culture permanently.

The review took six months and to capture student voice the Wellbeing@school online survey was used, customised for their school. The students’ whānau were also included. Jack says it was a very successful way to gather information. Focus groups were another tool, and they continue to be used. Bullying was identified as a major concern.

The first action to arise from the review was to raise awareness about the effects of bullying, and spread the message to “treat people the way you want to be treated”. The next priority was taking ownership of the issue in order to stop it, and setting up a mentoring support system so that targeted students could get help from other students, using the tuakana teina or buddy principle.

Three-quarters of the college’s students are Māori, and the school’s new strategy is based around the Te Whare Tapu Whā model of Māori health developed by Mason Durie, with the four cornerstones being taha tinana (physical health), taha waiura (spiritual health), taha whānau (family health), and taha hinengaro (mental health).

One-on-one approach working

Jack and the college Head of Health, Karon Berghan, added one more cornerstone – culture.

“We needed to change the culture,” Jack says. “Our biggest priority is wellbeing, allowing students to feel safe, and spreading that message. The most important way to achieve that is a student-driven approach, with students actively at the table when decisions are being made, acting as peer supporters and helping shape decisions.”

The school set up five committees of students, one for each of the five cornerstones, and the number of student leaders was expanded from 10 to 75. All are mentors, and the group includes students who understand the issue because they too were bullied, as well as some students who showed bullying behaviour in the past.

Empowerment is a core principle and the school actively encouraged anyone who was targeted to speak up and seek help. The follow-up action is a one-on-one discussion with the bully, which could be either inside or outside the grounds.

Year 12 student leader Trent Buckingham is one of the mentors and says the student-led approach, without the need for adult intervention, is working.

“When the message comes from students your own age, rather than from teachers and parents, it makes a difference. They know where you are coming from.”

The college also hosts special events by Taha Wairua, the school’s health committee, such as Pink Shirt Day, to reinforce the anti-bullying message.

Bystanders encouraged to take action

Jack says there was an initial spike in reports of bullying, but that has since reduced, and there are fewer incidents now. “It’s had a huge impact. The school is significantly safer, and a better place.

“We now have to maintain a deliberate focus on enhancing the positive culture that makes the college a safe place to learn.”

The next step planned, he says, will be empowering bystanders to take action, with reporting mechanisms to support that online, as well as through direct contact with students’ mentors.

The importance of reporting is also a consistent message given out at assemblies.

He says there has also been improvement in learning outcomes because of the culture change. Under-achievement was formerly an issue at the college. NZQA figures show that, in 2014, achievement for Māori at Level 1 was 48.7 per cent. However, last year that had risen to 65.3 per cent.

Watch a YouTube video(external link) about the changes made at the school to stop bullying.

Resources to tackle bullying(external link).

Free Wellbeing@School(external link) student survey is a great way to find out what students at your school really think. 

Peer action vital to create change

Kaitaia College’s Head of Health Karon Berghan says the most effective way to deal with bullying is to encourage people not to bully in the first place.

“Bullying is a choice. Developing empathy for others, seeing others’ perspectives and understanding the consequences of bullying are all good places to start.

“Positive peer pressure, where students are the ones intervening and providing support to one another, helps to build a culture where bullying behaviour is quickly recognised and rejected, and therefore not tolerated as acceptable behaviour.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:11 pm, 23 August 2018

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts