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Bullying at School

Bullying at School

Bullying is one of the most talked about subjects in a school environment.

Bullying has become more serious than it used to be because bullying no longer only happens in the school environment. Cyberbullying is, unfortunately,  becoming more commonplace as most students now have access to the internet, either through computers or through their mobile phones or other digital devices, which means that bullying can extend to outside of school, after school hours, even when you aren’t physically near the bullies.

This section has a bit of information about the laws around bullying at school.

What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone says or does things to have power over another person, making that person feel afraid, upset or uncomfortable. It is unwanted aggressive behaviour, generally repeated. It includes name calling, put downs, practical jokes, saying and writing nasty things, sexual comments, excluding or ignoring others, threats, damaging property, physical abuse and forcing others to do things which they do not want to do.

How does bullying affect me?

Everyone reacts to bullying in different ways. You may feel sad, angry, anxious, uncomfortable, worried or scared if you’re being bullied. You may have difficulty sleeping, or may not feel like eating or hanging out with your friends. You may even feel that you no longer want to go to school anymore.

If you feel that something is wrong and you’re not happy, you should speak with someone who can help you – like a Teacher, Counsellor, or other trusted friend or family member.

What can I do about bullying at school?

It takes courage to make a stand against bullying and to tell someone about it.

Try to find an adult you trust and feel comfortable with, and let them know about it. This is really important! Remember, you have done nothing wrong by asking for help and it is your right to not be bullied!

If you don’t want to talk with someone you know, you could try:

  • Youthline: 0800 37 66 33 or free text 234 – free telephone counselling for young people;
  • Kidsline or What’s Up are both available on 0800 WHATSUP (0800 942 8787)
  • Shine: 0508 744 633 – free telephone counselling line

If you’re totally unsure about what to do, and need some legal help, you can give us at YouthLaw a call and we’re happy to point you in the right direction!

How do I complain to my school about bullying?

Good schools should have a complaints policy telling you how complaints can be made and how they’ll be investigated.

If your school doesn’t have one, you should first tell your teacher about the bullying. Usually, the teacher will talk to you and the bully to find out what happened. In serious cases, they might refer the matter to the Principal who has the power to take further actions.

If you feel uncomfortable talking to a teacher, it might help to talk to your School Guidance Counsellor. Although the counsellor can’t punish the bully, they may be able to pass the matter on to people who can.

Will my teacher or school counsellor tell anyone else about the bullying?

When you talk to your teacher or school counsellor, they may tell someone else if necessary, even if you ask them not to – for example if they think it is important for your overall well-being and safety to report the matter to the Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki (MCOT) or the Police.

However, many counsellors may have agreed to a professional code of ethics that says that they will not breach your confidentiality unless you or others are in clear and immediate danger. If you’re concerned, you should ask them what information they’ll keep private at the beginning of the meeting.

If you complain to a teacher, depending on the school’s policy on bullying, they may talk to and discipline the bullies if they think you’ve been bullied.

Should I go to the Police about bullying at school?

The Police don’t normally get involved in school bullying unless it’s very serious – like physical abuse and serious assault of another person. Otherwise, they will generally let the school deal with the matter.  If your school isn’t responding satisfactorily, you might want to refer the matter to your local Youth Aid Officer (police).

If you contact your local Police Office, a Police Officer may arrange to see you and take a statement from you about what has happened if the school is not able to deal with it. Once the Police Officer has finished investigating the matter (which usually takes a little while), they may let you know whether they have charged the bully. If the bully is under 17, they may go through the youth justice system.

Can my school be held legally responsible for failing to stop bullies?

The school must provide a safe physical and emotional environment for all students. There is no strict legislation that requires schools to deal with bullying in a particular way, but there is a guideline of good practice created by the Ministry of Education which you can download here.

There are steps you may take if the school is not dealing with the bullying.


My school is not providing a safe environment for me and other students, what can I do?

Your Board of Trustees is required to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for you and other students at school. The Board has a responsibility to deal with bullying and any other issues that make it unsafe for you at school.

The first step would be to complain to the principal, if the response is unsatisfactory, you can make a complaint to the Board of Trustees to try to resolve the matter. If it still isn’t resolved satisfactorily, you may consider talking to the Ombudsman or if it’s extremely serious, to the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office or your local MP. If you are still unhappy after those complaints, you could try bringing a legal case, but legal cases can be extremely difficult to bring, stressful and expensive, and you would not be able to claim for anything that is covered by ACC (like physical injuries).

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