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Verbal abuse the biggest bullying problem at school: Students

School students think verbal mistreatment is the biggest bullying issue in schools – higher than cyberbullying, social or relational bullying such as social exclusion and spreading gossip, or physical bullying.

The insights have emerged from the long-running CensusAtSchool/TataurangaKiTeKura, a national statistics education project for primary and secondary school students. Supervised by teachers, students aged between 9 and 18 (Year 5 to Year 13) answer 35 questions in English or te reo Māori about their lives, then analyse the results in class.

Already, more than 18,392 students from 391 schools all over New Zealand have taken part in CensusAtSchool, which started on March 16. (Click here to see which of your local schools are taking part).

Students were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about each type of bullying.  A total of 36% strongly agreed or agreed that verbal bullying was a problem among students at their school, followed by cyberbullying (31% agreed or strongly agreed), social or relational bullying (25% agreed or strongly agreed) and physical bullying (19% agreed or strongly agreed).

This is the first time CensusAtSchool has asked about bullying, says Ōtāhuhu College teacher Anne Patel, a member of the CensusAtSchool team. “Information about the scale of bullying is hard to get in New Zealand because we don’t have a way of quantifying it on a national level.  But as CensusAtSchool is anonymous and available to students in every school in the country, we are getting a unique student-eye view of its scale and prevalence.”

Looking more closely at each category:

Verbal bullying

  • Overall, 36% of schoolchildren who took part strongly agreed or agreed that verbal bullying was a problem at their school.
  • Verbal bullying was more of a problem in high schools (39% of students agreed or strongly agreed) than primary schools (29%).
  • Verbal bullying was more of a problem for girls in co-ed schools (43% strongly agreed or agreed) than girls in single-sex schools (33% strongly agreed or agreed).

Cyberbullying

  • Overall, 31% of students who took part strongly agreed or agreed that cyberbullying was a problem at their school.
  • Girls were more likely to say cyberbullying was a problem at school (34% strongly agreed or agreed) than boys (26% strongly agreed or agreed).
  • Cyberbullying was more of a problem in high schools. A total of 19% of boys at primary school strongly agreed or agreed that bullying was a problem in their schools, but 31% of boys at high school. A total of 22% of girls at primary school strongly agreed or agreed that cyber-bullying was a problem in their school, but 40% of girls at high school.
  • For boys, cyber-bullying was more likely to be a problem in co-educational settings: A total of 32% of boys in co-ed schools strongly agreed or agreed that cyber bullying was a problem, against 23% of boys in single-sex schools. However, the picture was quite different for girls. A total of 40% of girls in co-ed schools strongly agreed or agreed that cyber bullying was a problem in their school, and the corresponding figure for girls in single-sex schools was also 40%.

And who were cyber bullies? Overall, 69% of all students who took part said that cyberbullies were equal numbers of boys and girls.

Social/relational bullying

Overall, 25% of students who took part strongly agreed or agreed that social/relational bullying was a problem at their school.

Physical bullying

  • Overall, 19% of students who took part said physical bullying was a problem at their school.
  • Physical bullying was more of an issue for boys (22% agreed, strongly agreed) than girls (16%).
  • Physical bullying appeared to be a bigger problem for boys at co-ed schools (24% strongly agreed or agreed) than at single-sex boys’ schools (16%).
    However, physical bullying was seen to be bigger problem in the eyes of girls in co-ed schools (17% strongly agreed or agreed that physical bullying was a problem at their school), than those in single-sex schools (9%).

Anne Patel says of particular interest is the data showing that students in single-sex schools were less likely to report bullying as a problem. “The question we now need to ask is: why this is? What is it about these schools that students perceive bullying to be less of a problem?”

CensusAtSchool, now in its seventh edition, is a collaborative project involving teachers, the University of Auckland’s Department of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education. It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people, and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, Japan and South Africa. The countries share some questions so comparisons can be made, but the majority reflect New Zealand students’ interests.