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Bullying at School

Bullying at School

This section has information about school bullying and obligations.

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.

Bullying can happen at school or through the internet (cyber-bullying). Cyberbullying is becoming more commonplace as most students have access to the internet.  This means that bullying can extend to outside of school, after school hours, even when you are not physically near the bullies.

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, 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 take 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. 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: 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787) – telephone support for nine to 13-year-olds;
  • 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?

The Ministry of Education has made guidelines for schools about how bullying at school should be prevented and stopped. The Ministry has recommended that every school have policies about how to prevent bullying, how complaints about bullying should be made, and how bullying should be stopped.

You should look online to see if your school has a policy about how complaints should be made about bullying. If you can’t find a policy, you can ask the school office if there is a policy.  If one exists, you should follow the complaint process in that policy.

If your school does not have a policy, you could start the complaint process by telling 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, you could talk to a guidance counsellor or ask your parents/caregivers to talk to the school for you.

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, they may report the matter to Oranga Tamariki or the Police.

Many counsellors 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.

Many schools try to resolve bullying in a restorative way. For example, the school may try to arrange a meeting between you and the bully to talk about what has happened.

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 (i.e. physical abuse or serious assault). Generally, the police will let the school deal with the matter.

If you’re not happy with how the school is handling the bullying, you could contact your local police station. A police officer may reach out to you to make a statement about what has happened. 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 18, 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. Schools are also required to take reasonable steps to stop bullying, racism, stigma, or any other form of discrimination.

However, there is no law that says schools must deal with bullying in a particular way.  The Ministry of Education has created a “good practice” guideline, which you can download here.

There are steps you can 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?

If you have followed the school’s bullying response policy, but the bullying has not stopped, you or your parents/caregivers can make a complaint to the principal. If you are unhappy with the principal’s response you can make a complaint to the board of trustees.

The board of trustees must provide a safe physical and emotional environment, and take reasonable steps to stop bullying, racism, stigma, and other forms of discrimination at school.

If you are not happy with the board’s response, you can consider making a complaint about the school to the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office or your local MP. Once the Disputes Panels are established, you could also lodge a complaint there. If the bullying involves discrimination of some form, you could complain to the Human Rights Commission.

If you are still unhappy after those complaints, you could try to bring a case against the school in court. However, court cases can be difficult to lodge, stressful, and expensive. You would not be able to claim for anything that is covered by ACC (like physical injuries).

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