Schools to look into undercover bully-watch

Schools to look into undercover bully-watch

Children’s aggressive behaviour will be monitored and measured in all of the nation’s 2370 schools, if a new government proposal to curb the growing incidence of bullying goes ahead.

The plan is still in the early stages, but it is understood that the Ministry of Education, police and the Children’s Commissioner will seek tenders for a system to monitor aggression and bullying in every school.

The suggestion comes after Children’s Commissioner Dr John Angus last week issued a new guide – called “Responsive Schools” – on how to combat increasing levels of physical, verbal, emotional and technological bullying. Among the recommended techniques is a system that recruits students to secretly work “undercover” in their school, alongside a teacher, to fight bullying.

The government has already started a $45 million campaign to bring schoolyard misbehaviour under control. The “Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan” includes parenting programmes for 12,000 parents, specific training for 5000 teachers of children aged three to eight, and long-term help programmes for 400 secondary and intermediate schools with the worst behaviour problems.

But the Sunday Star-Times has learned that another tool, to monitor violence and students’ fears in school, is being planned. Angus said the new scheme would allow teachers and parents to “understand the social climate in their school”.

Education Minister Anne Tolley confirmed work was under way on the scheme. It was being put together by the Ministry of Education, police and the Children’s Commissioner.

It is understood the new tool will work like a student survey, where pupils report regularly on how comfortable and safe they are at school. The data will be collected so that school leaders can quickly identify a deterioration in a school’s climate and spot problem areas.

Similar surveys have been carried out in the past by groups such as the New Zealand Council for Educational Research but only in a one-off, snapshot format. The new tool would eventually work in every school, all of the time.

When victims felt safe reporting incidents, and where there was systematic gathering of information on the frequency of bullying, programmes were more likely to succeed, Tolley said.

Angus’ “Responsive Schools” report lists scores of different anti-bullying programmes in use around New Zealand but warns that whichever one a school chooses, a community-wide change of culture must go along with it.

Among the anti-bullying techniques commended in the report is one where students work “undercover” to cut bullying. Three or four pupils who are neither victims nor bullies are asked to join an “undercover team” along with one or two bullies.

Teachers, the victim of the bullies, and the other team members know of its existence, but no one else does. The team comes up with a plan together to help the victim and progress is communicated to the teacher regularly – often via email.

The approach, pioneered at Auckland’s Rosehill College, is commended in the report. “The sense of intrigue makes the setting up of the undercover team into a playful approach,” it says.

Principal of Auckland’s Papatoetoe High School, Peter Gall, said the majority of schools would have some sort of anti-bullying programme in place by now. “It’s a matter of treating every situation seriously. You have to, because if you don’t it can come back to bite you.”

Some people thought bullies would grow out of it and that some children were just “life’s victims” but that was nonsense, he said. “It’s all very well until it’s your child that’s bullied – then things change quite rapidly.”

By JOHN HARTEVELT – Sunday Star Times

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