Bullying Prevention and Response: A Guide for Schools (the guide) states that “bullying is one particular form of aggressive behaviour. It can be covert or overt in nature. Most widely accepted definitions of bullying behaviour are based around the following four characteristics: bullying is deliberate; involves a power imbalance; has an element of repetition; and is harmful.”1

Bullying is increasingly seen as a socio-ecological issue – related to interactions between students, and between students and their environment – rather than an issue where individuals are to blame. This means that multiple factors influence the likelihood of bullying, and the most effective way to reduce it is to create a respectful and inclusive school environment.2

The guide highlights the need for a whole-school approach to addressing bullying. It notes that rates of student-reported bullying decrease when schools create a “safe, positive, physical and emotional environment”.3 If staff, students, parents and whānau work together to proactively create and maintain a respectful and inclusive school environment, bullying incidents and the need to respond to these should drop.

Students who attend schools with frequent bullying experience lower rates of achievement than students at similar schools with less bullying.4 In some cases victims of bullying have been stood down from schools, reducing their ability to learn.5 Students who experience frequent bullying are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, avoid going to school or attempt suicide.6

New Zealand students experience high rates of bullying compared with many other countries. Two thirds of students in Year 5 and nearly half of Year 9 students reported being bullied weekly or monthly.7

In a 2007 report on safety in schools,8 ERO found that schools tended to have limited information about whether their practices, processes and behaviours were helping them to effectively reduce and respond to bullying incidents.

Development of the guide

The Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) held a symposium in March 2013 that highlighted the need for additional guidance to help schools manage and prevent bullying.

This led the Secretary for Education to bring together representatives from a range of organisations to form the Bullying Prevention Advisory Group (BPAG). The group, chaired by the Secretary for Education, included representatives from:

  • Children’s Commissione
  • Education Review Office
  • Human Rights Commission
  • Ministry of Education
  • Ministry for Social Development
  • NetSafe
  • New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools
  • New Zealand Council for Education Research
  • New Zealand Police
  • New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association
  • New Zealand Principals’ Federation
  • New Zealand School Trustees’ Association
The BPAG developed the guide to help schools develop effective systems to prevent and manage bullying behaviour. It was sent to all schools at the end of Term 1, 2014.9 ERO conducted this evaluation to inform BPAG about the guide’s use.