Social & Creative

KiVa addresses ERO’s bullying concerns

Published May 15, 2019

The latest ERO report (May 2019) has again noted what we have known from over ten years of international data. It is a major challenge for New Zealand, and one that Accent Learning at Victoria University of Wellington has been addressing through the KiVa Bullying Prevention Approach (KiVa). 

ERO Evaluation Services Manager, Dr Deirdre Shaw commenting on ERO’s latest report into bullying in schools: 

“Bullying in New Zealand has been an issue that’s been identified for some time by both New Zealand and international studies, so what we found is really in line with what we already knew. So, yes, it is disappointing”

Contrary to the Report’s comment that bullying is beyond schools’ direct control, KiVa has proven that in fact it is. The success rate of KiVa in New Zealand and internationally is evidence of this. 

KiVa is making a difference in 40 schools in New Zealand who have been proactive and taken action by becoming a KiVa school. KiVa schools show a consistent year on year decrease in bullying incidents from a starting average of around 24% down to 14% over the first couple of years. 

The most recent international data shows New Zealand is second to worst in the OECD. More data is, of course, interesting but it’s clear that what is needed now is action. We all know there is a serious issue, bullying is intolerably high.

Bullying is complex. There are many different reasons why children bully others, and learned behaviour is just one of them. The responsibility of the school should not be understated. Children spend most of their time at school and it is their right to expect school to be a safe place. For too many it isn’t. The impact long term for victim, bullies and bystanders is considerable, so to take some action at school level should be an expectation. 

The ERO report also states that strategies given to students mostly “did not work”, and in fact, “sometimes things got worse”.  This isn’t surprising either. A common thread in international research on bullying mechanisms and successful intervention is that the solution should be systemic, school-wide.  Strategies on their own are not enough. 

At a KiVa school:

  • The School commits to change; changing attitudes, behaviours and changing group norms.
  • Classroom lessons focus on the class culture by raising awareness of definitions, the long-term impact of bullying and what students can do as peers, or bystanders.
  • There is a systematic KiVa process for identifying bullying as opposed to general behaviour problems.

ERO reports that the most common forms of bullying are, being ignored or left out, being teased or called names, and being lied about. These forms of bullying are often covert, out of sight, and rely on someone to tell. KiVa ensures victims feel confident and safe so they can tell and are supported through a process that resolves the bullying incident. Parents are an integral part of the KiVa solution and are given information, attend meetings and are kept informed. Data is gathered via annual student surveys as well as school data such as common types of bullying, male/female incidents, frequency, and reduction over time. 

We also know that the two greatest costs of bullying are teaching time lost managing bullying and the resources required to manage absenteeism of both the bullied and bully from school. A feature of the KiVa programme is the implementation of the KiVa team which manages incidents elevated to it, leaving teachers free to teach. 

ERO reports concern that not enough is being done to: give kids a voice; involve parents and whanau; and to use their school’s data about bullying. These issues are explicitly addressed by KiVa’s systemic approach giving students a voice through surveys, email opportunities, group and class discussion, and by taking their concerns seriously via a rigorous process of intervention. Every reported case of bullying in a KiVa school is listened to and addressed. 

The experience and reward across the first 40 KiVa schools demonstrates that addressing bullying is within a school’s control, that there is a proven evidence based approach that works, and that things can get better. 

To achieve change requires a serious commitment to addressing bullying in our schools. The cost of implementing a proven, evidence-based approach, showing a long-term reduction in bullying, across all NZ schools has been estimated as being entirely recouped by the public sector within two years. In a year’s time we could be celebrating our progress towards becoming the best place in the world to be a child or disappointingly reporting that bullying is “again intolerably high”. 

KiVa is being delivered in New Zealand by Viclink, Victoria University Wellington’s commercialisation and development entity. Viclink’s objective is to deliver real impact and change across New Zealand from our capital city university’s academics’ knowledge and research. 

Deidre Vercauteren is the Senior Education Programmes Manager for Accent Learning, part of Viclink at Victoria University of Wellington. 

KiVa is a bullying prevention approach from the University of Turku Finland. It is based on Professor Salmivalli’s 1996 research investigating the roles of bystanders. It is a whole school approach with three key components: prevention (classroom lessons), intervention (a trained team to address incidents) and monitoring (annual surveys and ongoing information).