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Playground battlefields – how to beat the bullies

30 June 2005

Playground battlefields – how to beat the bullies

The playground chant of “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” does not ring true for one expert on children’s issues.

Deputy Director of the Children’s Issues Centre, Michael Gaffney says bullying is any form of repeated physical or verbal abuse – and there are extreme cases in New Zealand where this has led students to commit suicide.

Michael Gaffney will be speaking at the New Zealand School Trustees Association’s conference in Auckland this week, presenting the centre’s findings on its research into how schools that improved their school relationships were able to reduce bullying.

About 650 delegates are expected to attend the conference, which has the theme Celebration of Governance – Where all Kids Achieve, and starts today.

Michael Gaffney says while bullying can be a big issue for schools, the research shows there are effective ways to stop the sticks, stones and name-calling.

The study looked in-depth at the environments of Manukau’s Papatoetoe Intermediate, Lower Hutt’s Wilford Primary and Dunedin’s Caversham Primary, and how they had cracked down on bullying. While there were some similarities between the schools, each one had its own method to create a better, bully-free environment.

“All of New Zealand’s schools are different. The way to reduce bullying is to look at school relationships and by improving them, there is less space for bullying to occur.”

He says there is no one starting place to improving relationships and reducing bullying. What might work in one school may not work in another, or may not work at that particular time. The schools in this study used many different programmes and it was important for the schools to adapt ‘solutions’ to their own situation rather than vice versa.

“On the outside, people tend to think one school is as same as the next. But when you look at the way schools develop, any kind of initiative put in place needs to be adapted to suit where the school is at.”

Michael Gaffney says Papatoetoe Intermediate focused on developing its pastoral care, which was absent in comparison to its discipline policy.

“If you do not have pastoral care, there is nothing to support students as problems develop. The first response then becomes one of discipline.”

“At Wilford Primary one of the many things they used was peer mediation, so if there were disagreements students knew there was a group of student leaders they could talk with to try and help sort things out.”

At Dunedin’s Caversham Primary, the teachers deliberately modelled the type of behaviour they wanted students to use.

“The staff talked about how they had to be consistent when responding to students. For example, if there has been fighting in the playground, different teachers should give the same response because as a group, staff have already agreed on what approach to take before it happens.

“Staff noticed there was a lot of improvement once they had agreed on how to respond to certain situations. In a culture of consistent responses, the students feel more secure.”

Michael Gaffney says one key indicator of success is when students themselves start to reinforce expectations about what is appropriate.

“They do not need to find a teacher to sort out a problem – they reinforce it themselves by telling their peers what is not acceptable behaviour.”

The annual conference is being opened by Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard, while Minister of Education Trevor Mallard will also address the delegates.


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