Making school a safe place

Bullying. What bullying? There is virtually no bullying at the decile-one Insoll Avenue School in Hamilton. That’s thanks to the school’s involvement in a Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) School-Wide…

Bullying. What bullying? There is virtually no bullying at the decile-one Insoll Avenue School in Hamilton. That’s thanks to the school’s involvement in a Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) School-Wide initiative and other anti-bullying programmes, says principal Linda McCabe. School-wide is a framework for promoting positive behaviour.  It helps schools understand what is happening in their school around behaviour, including bullying, says Brian Coffey, strategic policy manager at the Ministry of Education.

Naenae Primary School principal Murray Bootten remembers a week in the pre-PB4L days when he and his deputy principal isolated 10 children from the rest of the school at lunchtime. “It gave us a break (from bullying), but it didn’t solve the problem,” says Bootten.
The decile one school had a reputation as rough. But thanks to School-wide and before that Quality Circle Time, bullying and physical violence are a thing of the past. In the past lunchtimes required metaphoric “armour”, whereas they’re a “walk in the park” now, says Bootten.

Stubborn problem

At the same time, bullying remains a big problem in our schools. Coffey says one of the striking results from the Youth 12 survey released this year was that New Zealand hadn’t improved on bullying compared with the previous survey in 2005.
Likewise the Victoria University School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy found that 94 percent of respondents reported bullying in their schools, even though 84 percent of schools had an anti-bullying strategy in use at their school and 60% reported that their school’s code of conduct included a zero tolerance to bullying.
The ministry for its part chaired a multi-agency group last year, which produced the Preventing and Responding to Bullying” A Guide for Schools, published just before the end of last term. The guide acknowledges that the prevention of bullying requires schools to create safe and positive social and physical environments, and that schools need to encourage the expectation that students will feel comfortable enough to report bullying to a member of staff.

Leads to poor outcomes

Bullying can lead to a range of poor educational and life outcomes. Victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to wag school and/or drop out young, Anne Todd of the University of Oregon told the PB4L School-wide Conference 2013, which was sponsored by the NZEI Te Riu Roa. She said that in New Zealand the percentage of Year 5 students reporting recurrent bullying was in the top seven of 50 countries studied. Research findings show that many bullying incidents are not reported; “Students perceive schools are not addressing their concerns or that reporting bullying to teachers can make the bullying worse,” The Preventing and Responding to Bullying guide for schools reports.

Priority schools

Currently 408 schools are using the School-wide programme and that number is expected to nearly double by 2017. Priority is given to secondary schools, low-decile schools and schools with high numbers of Maori and Pasifika students on their rolls.
Insoll Avenue Primary was approached by the Ministry to be involved because it’s a feeder school to two others involved. “We could see that we would get some really, really good professional development around behaviour management,” principal Laura McCabe says.
The first step after initial training was to reassess the school’s values. Strategies to reduce bullying are most effective if they are part of a whole school focus on creating a positive, inclusive climate. “We took the opportunity to go right back and revisit our school values and visions.”


HERO-GraphicAfter consulting the board, teachers, parents and children, Insoll replaced its lengthy list of values with the acronym HERO. “H=honesty, E=excel, R=resilience and O=organised, which was easy for the children to identify with.
Students can also recite the acronym WITS: W = Walk away, I = make an “I” statement, T = tell someone, and S = seek help. Where in the past a child might have retaliated to an accidental kick with a push and a shove, they now step back and use an “I” statement.
McCabe says that Insoll’s children were encouraged to buy in to the new values from the beginning; “We did quite a lot of branding. The children did the signage and we got an artist to draw characters for each of the four values.”

Role plays

PB4L is taught every Monday at assembly, followed by a 20-30 minute lesson in class where students model behaviour. “We may go to where the issues happen (such as in the playground) and talk about it,” she says. “The children are encouraged to role play, and come up with solutions about what would be a better choice.”
The children have learned that they can report incidents to staff, which is one of the key principles in the Preventing and Responding to Bullying guide.
The School-wide programme is also integrated into the day-to-day teaching and into professional development at staff meetings where the process is continually refined. Success
Although PB4L is commonly viewed as anti-bullying programme, Insoll doesn’t focus on that side of it, concentrating instead on positive strategies.
Proof of the success of School-wide is in the data that is collected by Insoll. “In October [2013] we had eight playground incidents in a month, previously we have had eight in a week,” says McCabe. Because the school becomes aware of potential bullying more quickly it doesn’t turn into an on-going problem.
Best practice, says Coffey, is a focus on learning rather than on punishment. “Those kids with the most difficult behaviour are those who have been punished the most in the past,” he says. “You need to think differently.”

Redirecting behaviour

At Insoll, key to the improvements in the playground and the classroom is a process of redirecting behaviour. That might involve asking the child a question to redirect them from the behaviour. If that fails the next step is reflection time in the classroom and failing that in another classroom. If all else fails a letter is sent home, an outcome the children don’t relish.
The steps, says McCabe, have been refined twice. One tweak was to add more proactive redirects and verbal prompts as preventative steps.
In addition to redirection the school uses praise, classroom charts, and incentive schemes to reinforce positive behaviour.

Redirecting teacher attention

“That is quite important for us,” says McCabe. It is designed as a counter to research that shows teachers give three to 15 times more attention to misbehaviour than they do to appropriate behaviour. “We have visual charts in the classroom with tangible rewards.”
Children who build up sufficient credits can qualify for a number of rewards such as a cup of Milo with marshmallows. If seen doing good in the playground they go into a lucky draw. There is also a weekly attendance draw that every child who has attended five days that week goes into.
One of the most noticeable changes at Insoll, says McCabe, is that the children can articulate the school’s values. And there is more understanding between home and school about the values; Both the principal and her staff members have observed parents using the HERO language with their children.

Narrowing the gap

The 408 schools currently in School-wide had a 60 per cent higher rate of stand-downs than comparison schools before adopting School-wide. Two years later, the gap had narrowed to 20 per cent, ministry figures show. Student retention rates increased to 74 per cent in 2011, up from 69 per cent in 2009.
One of the best features about PB4L’s School-wide programme for Insoll, says McCabe is the ability to track progress by using the data; The school can use the data to track achievement, playground incidents and other information.
The data confirmed to the school that the School-wide programme had been a success.”We knew because we watch our data; We could see we were getting better.”
Informal observation backs up the data. The school is a lot calmer; “Our kids are way more engaged in learning. There is less off task behaviour. There is seldom any behaviour in the playground such as fights.” The school has recently transitioned to Tier 2 of the programme.

Information at:
Preventing and Responding to Bullying: A Guide for Schools
Other anti-bullying approaches used in schools include: Wellbeing@school, Incredible Years, Kia Kaha, Confident Kids, and Restorative Practice.