Stand Strong NZ: New Zealand's 'deeply disturbing' bullying rates revealed

One in two Kiwi kids are bullied at school, yet most schools claim to have a zero tolerance for bullying. New Zealand has one of the worst rates of bullying in the OECD - how did we get here? And what can we do to change the statistics? Scott Palmer reports.

The staggering extent of bullying in New Zealand schools has come under scrutiny as mental health issues and suicide take their toll on our young and most vulnerable.

Newshub is launching a new series looking at why New Zealand has some of the worst school bullying statistics in the West, the damage this is causing, and what we can do to stop it.

According to UNICEF, one in two New Zealand children are bullied at least once a month. It's one of the most common forms of violence experienced by children, and can cause long-lasting harm to victims, bystanders and the bullies themselves.

In the 12 months ending August 2018, Police responded to 39 incidents of bullying of children and young persons.

Text: One in two students is bullied at least once a month, one in two and bullied are highlighted.
Photo credit: Newshub.

And according to the OECD, 18 percent of New Zealand students are frequently bullied. On their index, New Zealand has the second highest reported bullying rate in the OECD.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) says the most common forms of bullying identified by students were: "other students made fun of me" (17 percent), and "other students left me out of things on purpose" (13 percent), and "other students spread nasty rumours about me" (13 percent).

Seven percent of New Zealand students reported being physically bullied.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told Newshub the rates are "deeply disturbing".

"Bullying is often raised with me by children and young people, so it's clearly an enduring concern for children and their parents," he says.

"It's a source of continuing national shame."

He attributes our bullying statistics to "high rates of inter-partner violence, family violence, child abuse and neglect, and inequality".

Text: 7 percent of students physically bullied, physically bullied is highlighted.

How well are schools handling it? 


The impact of bullying is taking a toll on students' physical and mental health, as NZ has the worst teen suicide rate in the developed world.

In multiple cases, students have attempted to take their lives on school grounds, unable to tolerate the abuse anymore.

Text: NZ has the worst teen suicide rate in the world. Worst is highlighted.
Photo credit: Newshub.

A student at Te Kauwhata College in north Waikato says she tried to commit suicide on the school grounds due to what she called the culture of bullying at the school. She survived, but after the bullying continued she tried again.

Fortunately, her mother found her and called an ambulance, and medical staff managed to save her life.

But others weren't so lucky. Wellington teen Alatauai Sasa took her life after being told her "go kill yourself" and to "escape this world". She was rushed to hospital from St Catherine's College on the day of her death but was unable to be revived.

The MoE says it doesn't collect data on the percentage of children bullied at school, or the number of bullying incidents resulting in the hospitalisation or death of death of children.

However it is focused on ensuring schools protect students from bullies.

"State and state integrated schools are required by law to provide a physically safe and emotionally safe environment for students," deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey told Newshub.

"All schools should have a policy that defines bullying and sets out how the school community will address it, in order for them to ensure a safe physical and emotional school environment."

But an Education Review Office school sample review in 2017 found 8 percent of school boards failed to have anti-bullying policies, processes and programmes in place for students.

Commissioner Becroft told Newshub there's "no such thing as a bullying-free school".

"There are bullying prevention guidelines, but I'm not satisfied in my own mind that every Board of Trustees has a comprehensive bullying action plan in place so that all students know that when they experience bullying, they have a safe, confidential and effective method of complaining," he says.

"There has been some real progress, but we still don't know exactly how many schools do or don't have an effective plan in place. Neither have we got measurements in place to assess whether the national and local rate of bullying is going up or down in schools. I think we need that."

Text: 8 percent of schools don't have anti-bullying policies. 8 percent and don't are capitalised.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Auckland University's associate professor, adolescent health researcher and paediatrician Dr Simon Denny says bullying is an issue that's deeply ingrained in our schooling system.

He says their own surveys over the past 10 to 15 years haven't shown a major reduction in bullying rates.

"The most recent data suggests about 6 percent of young people are bullied weekly or more often, so if you're talking about multiple times over the past month, that's probably about in keeping with the data we have," he told Newshub in 2017.

"We know the consequences of bullying are important. Young people who are bullied have behavioural and emotional health problems from that experience that travel with them so it's an issue we need to address."

Ms Casey told Newshub the MoE is committed to reducing school bullying using multiple approaches.

"We are continuing to develop resources to support schools to effectively facilitate and sustain their individual anti-bullying approaches, with a particular emphasis on connecting and involving children and young people in bullying prevention solutions."

Efforts to reduce bullying include a multi-sector bullying prevention group, the Bullying-Free NZ School Toolkit, and annual nationwide Bullying-Free NZ Week, held in conjunction with the Mental Health Foundation's Pink Shirt Day.

But Dr Denny says more is needed to help cut bullying rates in schools and across the country.

"We've got a long way to go if we're going to make a true impact on the rates of bullying in New Zealand," he says.

And Commissioner Becroft argues this is a systemic issue that needs a system response.

"At the moment, implementing the bullying prevention action plan has been left too much to each individual school. The guidelines are great but not every school is using those guidelines," he told Newshub.

"We need to have proper annual measurements to assess whether rates are going up or down."

Where to find help and support:


Stand Strong NZ is a series exploring the issues around bullying and what's being done to reduce the harm.