Bullying prevention and response: A guide for schools defines bullying behaviour as having four essential characteristics:

  • Bullying is deliberate – an intention to cause physical and/or psychological pain or discomfort to another person
  • Bullying involves a power imbalance – there is an actual or perceived unequal relationship between the target and the initiator
  • Bullying has an element of repetition – bullying behaviour is usually not one‑off
  • Bullying is harmful – there is short and long‑term physical or psychological harm to the target.

Bullying in schools can take a variety of forms, from more obvious practices of physical assault and intimidation, to more insidious practices like deliberate social exclusion or the spreading of harmful rumours. A key concern in recent years has been the growth of cyberbullying – children and young people using digital technologies, and especially social media, to inflict psychological harm on others. Cyberbullying presents a particular challenge to schools, as it can be more difficult to detect, and can continue outside of school time and off‑site. Additionally, those targeted have no respite from the bullying behaviour.

While bullying is a universal concern, international research has consistently indicated that bullying behaviour is prevalent in New Zealand schools. 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 in the study. The negative impact of bullying on students’ short and long‑term physical and mental health, educational achievement and social relationships is considerable, and comes at great personal and societal cost.

ERO has undertaken two previous investigations into bullying prevention, in 2007 and in 2015. In 2007 ERO published a report that found schools tended to have limited information about whether their practices, processes and behaviours were helping them to effectively reduce and respond to bullying incidents.

In 2013, the Secretary for Education established the BPAG to co‑ordinate a national response to New Zealand’s high rates of bullying, and to provide additional guidance to schools on how to prevent bullying. The BPAG published a guide, Bullying prevention and response, in 2015, which included information about bullying, good prevention practice and a bullying assessment matrix tool to help inform schools’ responses to bullying incidents.

ERO investigated schools’ use of the BPAG guide in 2015, and found fewer than half of the schools reviewed were using it. Of those that were, this was commonly to review and adjust their already existing policies and procedures for preventing and responding to bullying.

In 2016, the BPAG approved the Bullying‑Free NZ Schools Framework, which sets out nine core elements of successful whole‑school approaches to bullying prevention. The framework elements are based on research evidence that shows positive impacts when they are implemented with consistency and coherence. Associated resources and professional learning and development are available through the Bullying Free NZ website, which subsumed the standalone 2015 guide.

This 2019 ERO report focuses on the extent to which schools are implementing effective approaches to bullying prevention and responding to bullying that does occur.