Violence In New Zealand’s Schools: Delay In Acting Upon The Behaviour Summit

In March of this year a Taumata Whanonga – ‘Behaviour Summit’ was held at Te Papa in Wellington to discuss student behaviour in schools.

The conference needed to focus on bullying and intolerance because a major international report released in December last year ranked New Zealand second worst (to Tunisia) among 35 countries for bullying in primary schools with rates more than 50 percent above the international average. In New Zealand 33% of children answered yes to three or more questions on bullying compared to an international average of 18%.

At the time (December 08) Auckland paediatrician and former Children’s Commissioner Ian Hassall said the high rates of bullying reflected a “punitive culture“.

Inquiries into school bullying were already underway by the Children’s Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission and briefing papers had been issued which assured that a Behaviour Summit had been scheduled for March 2009.

The Summit went ahead as scheduled and was organised by the New Zealand Principals Federation, Secondary Principals Association, New Zealand Education Institute, Post Primary Teachers Association, New Zealand School Trustees Association, Early Childhood Council, NZEI Principals Council, NZ Secondary Principals Council and the Ministry of Education. It also involved principals, teachers, unions, government agencies, school boards, parents, police, early childhood services and community organisations.
The event concentrated on the 4-7% of students (from all ethinicities and of both genders) whose dysfuctional behaviour presented huge challenges for society. At the end of the two days it was agreed that no-one seemed to be in charge of the issues dysfunctional children presented for families, schools and the community. Despite all the calls for coherent approaches to these issues nothing had ever been achieved.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner went ahead and launched its ‘Child Safety Inquiry’ at the summit but the Minister “noted that the meeting was not about bullying”. The delegates were given a copy of the document but it was considered to be “a distraction from the more systemic issues the behaviour summit was set up to address” and was therefore probably unread by many of the attendees.

At the end of the summit a number of priorities for action were agreed on:

  • Ownership of the issue and improve collaboration between families, communities, government agencies and schools.
  • Early intervention – working with children in the early stages of life and in the first stages of things going wrong in their lives.
  • Initial teacher education and sustained teacher professional development to provide the skills required to manage extreme behaviour.
  • Stronger emphasis on getting it right for Maori students.
  • More support for successful evidence based programmes such as Incredible Years.
  • Share the evidence about what works.

Earlier this month the Minister of Education – Ann Tolley announced that the Taumata’s cross-sector planning group had handed her a draft Behaviour and Learning Action plan and that she was discussing it with them. She said “The potential impact is great – for kids, families, teachers and our communities. The Plan is based on better use of current funding and re-aligns current funding and services to evidence of what works.”

So, it’s now five months after the summit and the plan has still to get any further than the discussion stage.

Meanwhile acts of school violence have been continuing, culminating in two school invasions this week – the ultimate disruptive classroom behaviour. What a pity that the issue of bullying – both in schools and in the wider community – seemed to have been dismissed during the summit. A golden opportunity has slipped away and the issue seems to be destined to be skirted around ad nasuem.

Bullying and intolerance certainly seems to have been major factors in both of the school invasions and the assault on a Thai student from Avondale College and the Korean student who was attacked at a school bus stop and every teacher’s nightmare – to be stabbed by one of their own students which is what happened to David Warren at Avondale College. It can only be a matter of time before there is another fatality at a school, the last being the death of 66 year old Lois Dear in her classroom at Strathmore primary school

See also:”a sad record – school fights and brawls

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