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Thursday 09 October 2008

Charles Chauvel: NZ gets serious with school bullies

Posted in: Features
By Charles Chauvel MP - 2nd August 2008

Labour MP Charles Chauvel
Last month, Labour MP Chris Carter launched a range of initiatives aimed at making schools safer for students, and to ensure that schools have anti-bullying programmes in place.

These new initiatives follow a number of recent high profile incidents involving bullying. The recent suicide of a student, who faced constant verbal and physical abuse at school, has highlighted the need for a real and proactive change in our school environments.

The effects of bullying can be devastating. Children and teens being bullied often live with constant stress, and because they never know when the bullying will occur, they often miss school or are reluctant to take part in school activities. Unsurprisingly, this is likely to have a seriously negative impact on their performance in education. They can also suffer from loss of self-esteem, depression, physical illness and behavioural problems.

Many readers of this column will have had personal experience of the vulnerability that gay, lesbian, and transgender students face at school. In a recent Massey University survey of more than 2000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people, it was found that two-thirds of female respondents and three-quarters of males had been verbally abused because of their sexuality. 9 percent of women and 18 percent of men had been physically assaulted.

Among the initiatives announced by Carter will be the introduction of the Step Up, Be Safe resource cards. Designed by primary and secondary students, these cards were developed to raise awareness about bullying, and to inform students about how they can keep safe in their own school environment. They will be distributed to all state and state-integrated schools.

Other initiatives include new web-based resources, student materials and reviews of school safety to be taken by the Education Review Office. Schools without targeted anti-bullying programmes will need to develop processes and procedures that make their schools safer places for all their students.

Along with my colleagues in Labour's Rainbow Caucus, Hon Maryan Street MP, Tim Barnett MP and Louisa Wall MP, I am really proud that Chris Carter has delivered on this important issue. To quote Out There, who have worked with our caucus to see these changes through:

"The majority of schools have failed students by tolerating homophobia that marginalises gay and lesbian students. This initiative now sends a clear message that homophobia is something that schools must address as part of creating an inclusive and positive learning environment".

Of course, these changes won't solve all the problems around safety in schools for members of our communities. But they are a good start. Well done, Chris, for having the courage to move in this area.

Charles Chauvel MP - 2nd August 2008