Ending New Zealand's 'appalling' school bullying culture


Last updated 14:35, October 23 2015

The young pupils at a Wellington primary school are leading the way in tackling New Zealand's "appalling" bullying culture.

Marsden Primary is one of the first Wellington schools to introduce an anti-bullying programme being hailed as revolutionary overseas.

KiVa – a Finnish programme being used across Europe – has anti-bullying experts and teachers in New Zealand believing it could be the answer to finally turning the tide against bullying, and should be introduced to all schools.

Marsden Primary 8-year-olds Zoe Cunningham, Sophie Penn, and Lulu Everett say looking out for one another is a great way to stop bullying.

It differs from other anti-bullying programmes by focusing on bystanders, as well as the bullies and victims. 

New Zealand desperately needed to address its bullying problems, according to Deidre Vercauteren of Accent Learning, a subsidiary of Victoria University.

"New Zealand's statistics are appalling, and surveys suggest there has been no improvement in the last 10 years."

A 2013 survey had found about 94 per cent of New Zealand teachers and principals indicated bullying was a problem in their school, Vanessa Green, a developmental psychology expert at Victoria, said.

Results from a study carried out in Finland showed a significant reduction in bullying after one year of implementing KiVa. There was a 98 per cent improvement in the victims' situation, and an end to bullying in 86 per cent of reported incidents.

Marsden Primary director Celia McCarthy said the school took up the programme because of New Zealand's "dreadful" bullying statistics.

While Marsden did not have serious bullying issues, all schools had bullying, she said. "It's a societal issue that needs to be confronted and schools should be proactive."

The programme allowed children to learn the definition of bullying, which was when harm was meant, it was repeated over time, and came from a position of power, she said.

Year 3 teacher Kate Feary, whose class has been going through the programme since term two, said children were being given the power to recognise bullying behaviour and given the tools to take action.

"It really is working for us. The girls can understand and see what is happening, not just in school, but in the community, and are developing the skills to deal with bullying."

Green said KiVa was the only preventative anti-bullying programme currently available that had strong evidence-based results.  

It was never too early to introduce school children to the programme's philosophy of looking out for one another and creating an environment that was safe for everyone, she said.

"Bullies only bully when they have an audience. The whole idea of KiVa is that it teaches kids to stand up for one another, rather than turning a blind eye.

"We already know that, without intervention, school bullies are more likely to end up engaging in delinquent behaviour and have a higher chance of being incarcerated.

"The 'best case' scenario is that they end up being workplace bullies. The long-term outcomes for victims can include significant mental health issues." 

 - Stuff