New findings from ERO into bullying prevention

Overwhelmingly New Zealand students enjoy being at school (75%) and feel accepted for who they are (69%). This falls off dramatically for those students who are subjected to bullying.

An evaluation of 136 schools released by the Education Review Office (ERO) today – Bullying Prevention and Response in New Zealand Schools - examined how well schools are addressing bullying and what effect it is having on rates of bullying. ERO is also releasing the results of a survey of 11,085 students into their experience of bullying – Bullying Prevention and Response: Student Voice.

New Zealand has some of the worst recorded rates of school bullying in the world. The 2014/15 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reported New Zealand had the second highest
rate of bullying of the 51 countries studied.

ERO found that boys are more likely than girls to be bullied, and gender diverse students report significant levels of bullying. The prevalence of bullying is higher in primary schools.

“Schools are well aware of the problem”, says ERO Chief Review Officer Nicholas Pole. “But the evaluation and student survey we’re releasing today show that even schools that are doing the right things are not succeeding in eliminating bullying. The levels of bullying in our schools are profoundly troubling and require urgent attention.”

The evaluation findings show that while schools which have a positive climate have much lower rates of bullying than those with a poor climate, those rates are still high (38% vs. 56% of students reported being bullied at their current school. 55% vs. 77% reported witnessing bullying at their current school).

Bullying is prevalent even in schools which are effectively implementing those elements identified as best practice. The Bullying-Free NZ Framework developed in 2016 by New Zealand’s Bullying Prevention Advisory Group (BPAG) asks schools to adopt nine elements which taken together reflect current evidence about how schools can both prevent and respond to bullying.

Mr Pole believes it is still important for schools to implement the Bullying-Free NZ Framework. “The Framework provides a solid bedrock for schools to build on, but it is not enough on its own.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to gain a greater understanding of school bullying and what it will take to eliminate bullying from our schools. Most students are aware of strategies to apply should they be bullied or witness bullying. However, we found that when students applied strategies they had learned in school, only 36% had the bullying stop. The remainder of students had the bullying stop for a while, not stop, or for a few students, get worse.”

“New Zealand has high rates of domestic and sexual violence, and workplace bullying. Schools must strive for positive change but they cannot run faster than community attitudes and social norms. We all need to take a hard look at the culture.

“Schools, parents and communities need to have high expectations of their children’s behaviour, and to model respect and kindness themselves.”

Bullying Prevention and Response in New Zealand Schools (ERO 2019) 

Bullying Prevention and Response Student Voice (ERO 2019) 

The Bullying-Free NZ School Framework

A guide for parents for tackling bullying

Key Facts

  • For this evaluation, ERO visited 136 primary, composite and secondary schools as part of their regular review in Terms One and Two, 2018. Review officers collected data while onsite, drawing on interviews and meetings with school leaders, trustees, teachers and students, conducting observations and document analysis.
  • Students in Year 4 and above in these schools were invited to complete a confidential online survey on their experiences of bullying at their current school. Results are presented in a companion report, Bullying Prevention and Response: Student Voice.
  • 32% of the secondary and composite schools ERO visited were working towards a bullying-free environment to a great extent, 48% were to some extent, and 19% to a limited extent.
  • For primary schools, 40% were working towards a bullying free environment to a great extent, 44% to some extent, and 16% to a limited extent.
  • 47% of primary students reported having been bullied at their current school, and 28% of secondary school students. 61% of primary students and 53% of secondary students reported witnessing bullying of others.
  • 31% of New Zealand children will experience bullying behaviour in schools1 at least weekly, ranging from name calling and exclusion to assault. Just over 8% will be hit, pushed, punched or kicked. 4% will receive a nasty message on their phone or computer2.
  • Bullying varied noticeably by gender. 41% percent of boys said they had been bullied, compared to 33% of girls. While children who identified themselves as “gender diverse” made up less than one percent of the whole, they reported levels of bullying of all kinds which were much higher than other children.
  • Bullying varied little by ethnicity. 42% of Māori students experienced bullying; 40% of Pakeha students; 36% of Pacific students, and 32% of Asian students.
  • The most common negative behaviour that students experienced at least monthly was being left out or ignored. The least common was cyber-bullying.
  • For students who were free of any form of bullying, 85% enjoyed being at school. This drops to 71% for those who experience a bullying incident 1-2 times per month, and to 60 percent for those that experience bullying on a daily basis.
  • Most students had used strategies they were taught in school when they encountered bullying (65%). However these strategies only stopped the bullying completely for 36% of those who used learned strategies. The most common result was that the bullying stopped for a while, and then began again.
  • For the purpose of the survey, bullying is defined as having four main characteristics:
    • It is deliberate.
    • It involves an actual or perceived power imbalance.
    • There is an element of repetition.
    • There is short- and long-term harm to the target (physical or psychological).

1 There are an estimated 802,000 students enrolled in New Zealand schools in 2019.
2 This estimate is based on students in Years 4 onwards.