Monday, April 25, 2011

School bullying reveals gap in natural justice

Written by Rosslyn Noonan and published in the Herald on 14th April 2011

Rosslyn Noonan is the Chief Commissioner, Human Rights Commission

Prime Minister John Key has called for a "national conversation" on how to reduce bullying in our schools. Political leadership is welcome on an issue that is complex and too often dismissed as unimportant and, at any rate, insoluble. A generation of students who live online as much as in real life have not hesitated to post scratchy recordings of vicious assaults. Each clip becomes a reminder that something has gone terribly wrong in the lives of both victim and bully.
Many parents of children who have been bullied feel powerless, often begged by their children not to raise it with the school because of their fear that it will just make things worse for them. But bullying, harassment and assaults cannot be ignored - they are human rights abuses.

"Any failure to treat bullying, abuse and violence seriously because it occurs between students, within schools, is a violation of a child's human rights." The statement comes from the Human Rights Commission's report School Violence, Bullying and Abuse: a human rights analysis. It was published in response to persistent complaints received from parents whose children were the victims of bullies. The analysis was completed in conjunction with the Office of the Children's Commissioner's inquiry into bullying: School Safety: An inquiry into the safety of students at school.
Everyone, but particularly children, as vulnerable members of society, has a right to personal security. They have the right to be safe and to feel safe. Bullying and harassment, assault and abuse, deny a child that right.
Children have a right to education.
If a child no longer feels safe at school, their education has been compromised as much as that of the bully who faces a stand-down or suspension. Some of the saddest complaints the Human Rights Commission has received come from the parents of children who have been the victims of serious bullying at school. Parents have said they felt let down by their schools and the Ministry of Education. In some cases the parents said the school never told them what had been happening, even when the bullying had been going on for some time and the school was aware of it. They felt excluded from the process, particularly any discussion about how to protect their child's safety when the bully returned to school.
The commission's analysis of school bullying revealed a fundamental gap in natural justice. Schools are required to inform the parents of a student who is suspended or stood down, but there is no equivalent guidance to say the victim's parents should be notified or even heard when a board of trustees is considering how to discipline a student who has been a bully. Without the right to be heard, the students who have faced harassment, violence and abuse are victimized again, this time by the process.
In March 2009 the commission made a series of recommendations, including asking the Ministry of Education to provide specific guidance to schools on how they should treat the victims of bullying. We offered to help with advice on these guidelines and had an initial meeting with two government agencies. The guidance must be founded on the principle that a young person's personal safety is the paramount concern and the starting point for the school's response to bullying. It is critical that boards of trustees be informed that the principles of natural justice apply to all those affected by their decisions - and not just to those subject to disciplinary action.
The commission specifically identified the timely opportunity to expressly include the rights of victims and their parents within the Ministry of Education's revised guidelines for principals and boards of trustees on stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions.
None of the commission's suggested revisions were incorporated in that review process which was completed in February 2010.

Once again parents of children who have been bullied are claiming exclusion from the school decision-making. Even with the most incisive guidelines and policies, responding fairly to bullying comes down to how we treat each other. Along with genuine ownership of the problem there has to be a whole-of-school approach.
The commission is one of the supporters of the Human Rights in Education initiative, adopted successfully by many schools. We do so because the evidence says the surest foundation on which to build a safe and successful school community is clearly expressed and understood rights, responsibilities and respect for everyone.
The Human Rights in Education model has significantly reduced bullying, harassment and truancy in other communities. When students and teachers face less stress and disruption, everyone can get on with learning. It comes as no surprise that when this happens academic results improve.
Bullying is a complex issue with no easy solution and is not limited to schools. But the best place to start is to acknowledge we all share in the responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every child and young person wherever they are throughout our communities.

Wendy adds:

There are some very worthwhile resources available. Check out the Human Rights Commission for support in this area. Also I have a great deal of respect for the work of Barbara Coloroso.

She has contributed significantly in this area. Her books 'Kids are Worth it' (available through our website) and 'Parenting Through Crisis' are very useful books. She has also made a DVD titled 'The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: Breaking the Cycles of Violence, Creating Circles of Caring'. She outlines the deadliest combination "Bullies who get what they want from their target, bullied kids who are afraid to tell, bystanders who either watch, participate or look away, and adults who see the incidents as simply 'teasing' and a normal part of childhood.

I think her work gives us plenty to think about and reflect upon, our role as teachers and or bystanders and how we aid and abet the bully and how you can become peacemakers. This DVD is available through

Monday, April 11, 2011

Darwin Calling

The Darwin Convention Centre
Last week I had the opportunity to present at the ‘Quality Does Matter’ conference in Darwin. organised by the Department of Education and Training.  The topic was the environment as the third teacher, and woven through were to be elements of risk and challenge. Talk about risk and challenge! Here I was away from my comfort areas of ICT and Literacy talking to a group of teachers, with a growth mindset,  I was up for the challenge. I thought I was presenting a workshop but as it transpired, it was the Keynote I had agreed to and I found out on arrival that there would be 300 people at it! I was to be on straight after the Northern Territory’s  Minister of Education and Training, Minister Burns.
The day before the conference I met the team from Child Australia who have a similar role to the ELP team, working with teachers across Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The next day at the keynote I encouraged them all to sit in the front row and be my Whanau support. I was a long way from home and did not have my usual network of friends (my ELP team) supporting me with their encouraging faces in the front row. So the Team from Child Australia became my Whanau for the day and they told me they would be clapping and cheering loudly from the front row. Now there was clapping and there was some cheering at times when particular things I shared resonated with the group of 300, I am not sure if it was my new Whanau in the front row or from the wider audience. It was very much appreciated. I was reminded yet again of the importance of Whanau and how the early childhood community in Aotearoa New Zealand as well as further afield are just like a family.
Carol Dweck says "What children learn best from are slightly difficult takes which they have to struggle through. Knowing they can cope with difficulties is what makes children seek challenges and overcome further problems” Of course we can replace ‘child’ with ‘adult’ as learning never stops and we keep learning through the difficult and challenging tasks we set ourselves. Yes it was a risk but I am so pleased I took up the challenge
Thank you Louise and your team, Dawson and your team for making me feel so very welcome, for giving me the opportunity to share some of the work that is happening in our country.

Ka Kite