Bullying is a serious issue in New Zealand schools and more generally within New Zealand society. All learners have the right to feel safe, secure, included and welcomed in their school. The harmful effects of bullying on physical and mental wellbeing are significant and long-lasting. Therefore, it is crucially important schools work towards the vision of a bullying free environment. The Bullying Prevention Advisory Group (BPAG) has provided useful evidence‑based guidance for schools on how to do this effectively through the mutually reinforcing elements of the Bullying Free NZ Framework, underpinned by committed and consistent leadership. In this evaluation, ERO assessed how well schools were implementing the different elements of the framework. We also gathered student voice directly through a survey of more than 11,000 students in Year 4 and above.

Our findings show most schools are aware of their responsibilities to prevent and respond to bullying, and have appropriate policies in place. We found that improvements could be made by effectively using data for monitoring and evaluation, supporting student agency; and ensuring that whānau and the school community have a shared understanding of bullying and the school’s prevention and response approach. In general, most of the schools we visited were implementing most of the elements of the Bullying Free NZ Framework to at least a satisfactory extent. The framework elements are informed by evidence and clearly have positive impacts when well implemented.

However, our conversations with students and student survey results indicate that bullying remains relatively high. A third of students we spoke to indicated they had been bullied at their current school, and around half indicated they had observed bullying at their school. Most students had learned response strategies and many used them when encountering bullying, but the strategies did not always lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

Implementation of the Bullying Free NZ Framework is an important and necessary basis for moving towards a bullying free environment. Schools should continue to be supported to improve the consistency and quality of their implementation of it. More research and evaluation is clearly needed into the effectiveness of the many programmes being adopted in schools to assess their practicality, the impacts they add to a school’s climate and ability to reduce and effectively respond to bullying. 

Our overall findings echo New Zealand’s results in the recent iterations of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which indicates that New Zealand has a higher rate of bullying relative to most other OECD countries. Taken together, this suggests that there is something distinct in the New Zealand culture, which as families and communities we need to acknowledge and address. The ultimate solutions to bullying in New Zealand cannot rely entirely on what is under a school’s direct control. Schools are largely doing the right things. The problem is a societal one, so our response needs to be too.

This report is the culmination of work from many in ERO, supported by the students, principals and teachers who have given their time and shared their insights into their practices and experiences. I want to thank all involved for their contribution. During the course of this work one of our much loved staff members Paul Lawrence passed away. I want to acknowledge Paul’s contribution to this work and the contribution he has made over the past 15 years to ERO’s national evaluation programme.

Nicholas Pole

Chief Review Officer

Education Review Office

May 2019