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More action, less complacency needed to prevent bullying

The New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) agrees with the Children’s Commissioner that more action is needed to address bullying in schools.

Like many other issues that show up inside the school gates, bullying at schools has its roots in wider social norms and behaviours. That means that teaching children and young people how to manage relationships in a healthy way, without bullying, shaming or excluding others is an important part of building a healthier society, NZSTA President Lorraine Kerr says.

Every school will encounter issues with bullying behaviour from time to time, and not only from its students Ms Kerr says. Parents, staff, neighbours and board members themselves are less than perfect, and can contribute to an unhealthy school culture unless the whole school community remains vigilant. Workplace bullying, classroom bullying and playground bullying all need to be eliminated to make this a reality.

As Judge Becroft has said, We all need to focus on making sure that everyone in our school knows they can report unhealthy behaviours such as physical or verbal violence, shaming excluding or coercing behaviours and that something will be done to make things better.

Bullying prevention is a part of schools’ core curriculum through the Health and Physical Education curriculum, and an important part of Boards of Trustees’ responsibilities to ensure that students have a safe and healthy physical and emotional environment at school.

"Ideally we would like to eliminate bullying and other negative behaviours from schools altogether, but while we still have students living with violence, neglect and other intolerably stressful situations out in the community, that’s not likely to happen," she says

We already have a lot of very good initiatives in some schools, like PB4L (Positive Behaviour for Learning) and the Cornerstone Values programme. One of the strengths of these programmes is that they are adapted and integrated into the life of the school, rather than imposed from outside.

NZSTA prefers to avoid talking about "zero-tolerance" as experience shows that using zero-tolerance frameworks can become very negative and end up re-victimising students who show dysfunctional behaviours rather than helping them learn better ways of coping.

Many instances of bullying behaviour that were reported in last year’s "Education Matters to me" reports jointly produced by NZSTA and the Children’s Commission identified that they originated from adults at the school, as well as from other students. "Zero-tolerance" approaches are difficult to implement in these instances, as employment law and natural justice require that anyone accused of bullying behaviour has a chance first to defend themselves against such accusations, and then to amend their behaviour. It would be difficult to justify different standards for adults and students simply on the basis of age.

"We absolutely agree that we need to keep working and finding better ways to reduce complacency and improve our record on bullying," Ms Kerr says. "That’s not as easy as a "just say no to bullying" campaign. It’s much more likely to work when schools adopt positive strategies that work for their students and staff and their circumstances. Many schools already do this. We need to do better. We need to aim for all schools doing it all the time."

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