It is clear from ERO’s survey that bullying is part of life for too many students in New Zealand schools. Students have different experiences of bullying based on their gender, ethnicity and year level. The bullying is manifested through a range of negative behaviours and with varying levels of frequency. However, every form of bullying damages students’ sense of belonging and enjoyment of school, and can have negative impacts on their health, wellbeing and learning.
Almost every school has a bullying prevention and response policy and most students have been taught strategies by their school on what to do if they experience or witness bullying. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions for developing a bullying-free environment.
Ideally, all of these conditions must be in place when working towards creating a bullying-free environment:
Students must have the knowledge of how to respond if they experience or witness bullying
Students must have the confidence to respond
Students must put the strategies into effect
The bullying ceases for good, and
The school must monitor the ongoing effectiveness of whatever action is taken to address the bullying, intervening as required.
The reality ERO found while conducting this evaluation:
Eighty-two percent of students had been given strategies at their current school to respond to bullying
Eighty-five percent of students with knowledge felt confident about the strategies they had learnt
Seventy percent of confident students actually used the strategies
Thirty-six percent of students who used the strategies found the bullying stopped altogether
Seventy-three percent of schools had satisfactory or better, use of data for monitoring of bullying at their school.
ERO’s findings make it clear that while a large proportion of students have the knowledge they need, fewer have the confidence to act, fewer still take action, and not everything was effective in stopping bullying. In other words, while most students knew what to do when they experienced or witnessed bullying, applying the strategies they had learned did not lead to a full and lasting cessation of the bullying behaviour. Indeed, the most common outcome was that the bullying stopped for a while and then started again.
ERO encourages schools to focus more carefully on each condition – knowledge, confidence, implementation and outcome. Students’ confidence to act and the extent to which they do act will be heavily influenced by the specific context of the bullying, but these can both be improved if students anticipate that the response will successfully eliminate the bullying.
Leaders and teachers in schools can improve the outcomes by ensuring they take appropriate action when bullying is reported and continue to monitor the situation over time. They need to pay particular attention to the most at-risk group, albeit a small one. Gender-diverse students are the most likely to experience bullying and the least likely to report it.
Additionally, as ERO found students were most likely to speak to their parents and whānau when experiencing bullying (69 percent) it is crucial schools work with whānau on an ongoing basis.
ERO’s 2019 report Bullying Prevention and Response in New Zealand Schools, released simultaneously with this report, found many schools were not engaging proactively with parents, but rather notifying them only when serious bullying incidents occurred. The most effective schools had ongoing relationships with parents where they worked together not only in response to bullying, but also building a shared understanding around bullying prevention and the strategies children could use.
Positive partnerships with home and students (giving students a voice and agency) contribute powerfully to the overall school climate and hence the work towards a bullying-free school. This goes beyond what can be captured in a survey. It rests upon a foundation of inclusive, respectful relationships between all members of the school community, where everyone can be trusted to play their part in providing a safe physical and emotional environment, conducive to learning.
 Bullying Free New Zealand. (2019). The effects of bullying. Retrieved from: https://www.bullyingfree.nz/about-bullying/the-effects-of-bullying/
 This is one of the mandatory checks made by ERO in every school review.