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Ombudsmen want compulsory anti-bullying programmes in school

Office of the Ombudsmen
Te Tari-o-Ngā Kaitiaki Mana Tangata

Media release

Ombudsmen want compulsory anti-bullying programmes in schools

The Ombudsmen’s Office is calling for anti-bullying programmes to be mandatory in all schools in the wake of its investigation into serious assaults at Hutt Valley High School.

And the Office also wants to see victims gaining a voice in school disciplinary processes and greater guidance for school discipline.

The report by Ombudsman David McGee was today tabled in Parliament following his investigation into complaints arising from a series of violent incidents that occurred at Hutt Valley High School in December 2007. The complaints were made by a group of parents against the school, Child Youth and Family and the Education Review Office.

In the report, David McGee says the serious assaults that occurred at the school in late 2007 were part of a “systemic problem of violence”, which the school had recognised but had not addressed satisfactorily.

“They were not referred to the Police or CYF for investigation, they were not adequately punished, and the school took it upon itself to interpret medical information in favour of the perpetrators. Victims’ parents were not told by the school that their children had been assaulted.”

There was a lack of student supervision outside of class time, with teachers not performing scheduled duty, some for fear of their own safety, he says.

A complaint against the Education Review Office that it had failed to properly assess the safety of the school was upheld. A complaint against Child Youth and Family was also upheld for its failure to manage a conflict of interest held by one of its staff who was also chair of the school’s board of trustees.

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David McGee says that while the school understated the seriousness of the 2007 assaults, it had since been very proactive in addressing bullying and violence at the school. These steps had included introducing anti-bullying programmes and setting up a safety advisory group which included student representatives.

In his report, David McGee recommended school national administration guidelines be amended to make anti-bullying programmes compulsory in all schools, rather than it being simply a recommendation from ERO.

“I also consider the present disciplinary procedures could be improved by requiring principals and Boards of Trustees to consider the views of victims when making decisions on discipline, when the infringement at issue is bullying or violence.”

Victims could be given the opportunity to either provide a written victim impact statement or to attend board suspension hearings, he said.

David McGee also recommended the Ministry of Education provide schools with more specific guidance on the levels of punishment appropriate for various actions.

“This is because the situation at Hutt Valley High School demonstrates that the lack of appropriate sanctions can contribute to, and risk normalisation of, a culture of violence.”

While a rigid national template for school discipline would have little merit, the current “entirely discretionary” system risked producing arbitrary disciplinary decisions both within and between schools, he said.

The Ombudsman’s full report is available online at www.ombudsmen.parliament.nz

ENDS

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