Conclusion

The BPAG has developed useful research‑based guidance to support New Zealand schools to implement bullying prevention and response strategies. ERO found most schools were implementing many of the elements of the bullying‑free framework to at least some extent. However, simply having many of the elements in place was not sufficient to make a difference in bullying prevalence. What distinguished those schools working towards a bullying‑free environment to a great extent was the level of coherence and consistency of the whole‑school approach, and the strength of internal evaluation that enabled leaders to be clear about the effect of their initiatives on school climate and culture.  

For those schools working towards a bullying‑free environment to some extent, leaders needed to further develop their monitoring and internal‑evaluation processes to make sure they had a good understanding of bullying in their schools, and how effectively their policies, programmes and processes were meeting the needs of their students. Valid and reliable surveys like Wellbeing@School are a useful gauge of student wellbeing and school climate, and can provide primary evidence of the effectiveness of practices and programmes. School leaders can support student leadership and student agency to address the issues that matter most to them around bullying by providing opportunities for students to have meaningful input into how the school approaches bullying prevention and response.

Finally, those schools working to a limited extent need to make sure they have up‑to‑date policies and procedures that are consistently followed in the school. They should make use of BPAG guidance along with internal monitoring and evaluation to identify where their most salient issues are arising and build buy‑in and a shared commitment to tackle, in the first instance, a small number of identified priorities.  

Most students have learned bullying prevention and response strategies in their schools. While the coverage of this teaching could be improved in some instances to make sure all students know what to do when experiencing or witnessing bullying, it is clear that having knowledge of strategies is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for students to be able to respond effectively to bullying incidents.

The prevalence of bullying in New Zealand schools is intolerably high, and the impact of bullying on student wellbeing and achievement is significant. Bullying is a complex issue, and this evaluation has focused on the policies and processes schools have in place. However, it is clear some of the contributing factors extend far beyond the school gates. For instance, New Zealand has a similarly troubling record of statistics around family and sexual violence and a concerning level of workplace bullying. The problem is a societal one. Schools can play a significant part in addressing it, but the responsibility to bring about lasting change is shared by communities, whānau, and individuals across New Zealand.