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38% of school leaders experienced threats of violence in 2017

Senior primary school leaders are reporting high levels of violence in their schools, with 38% experiencing threats of violence in 2017, and 41% being subjected to actual physical violence.

In the third part of a report, commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa from the Australian Catholic University, (see previous releases on the Discrimination and Burnoutreports) the Offensive Behaviour in Schools report raises serious safety and wellbeing issues.

“Along with their heavy workloads, school leaders are also having to cope with behaviours such as threats of violence, actual violence, bullying, conflicts, gossip and slander,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart.

“Schools need to be safe places for everyone: creative and compassionate spaces where children can meet their potential, and teachers and leaders can do their jobs free of all types of harassment,’’ she says.

“There are two parallel issues going on here. One is children with learning difficulties trying to access the help and support that they and their families need, and the other is adults whose behaviour in a learning environment is sometimes unacceptable.

“We are not trying to apportion blame here, we are making recommendations on how to move forward, and this needs resources and funding to urgently address the problem.”

Key findings:

  • 38% of all school leaders had experienced threats of violence in 2017.
  • 41% had experienced actual physical violence in that year.
  • Principals were slightly more likely than deputies to experience threats of violence, but deputies and assistants were more likely than principals to experience actual physical violence.
  • Both rates – threats and actual violence – had increased slightly since 2016.
  • Compared with the rates experienced by the general population, school leaders experience threats of violence at 4.87 the general prevalence, and physical violence at ten times the general prevalence.
  • Forty percent of female leaders were threatened with violence, compared to 34% of male leaders. Actual violence was reported by 43% of female leaders, compared to 38% of male leaders.
  • School leaders are also frequently the subject of gossip and slander (59% of participants in 2017), bullying (38%), unpleasant teasing (13%) and sometimes sexual harassment (3%).
  • School leaders experience bullying at 4.58 times the general population, and unpleasant teasing at 1.57 times the rate of the general population. The rates of all these behaviours have also increased from the 2016 to 2017 data-sets.
  • Those doing the bullying are usually other adults (96.3%) – most often parents, but also colleagues, managers/superiors or subordinates.


1. There is an urgent need to increase resourcing, staffing and programmes to support the growing number of students with challenging behaviours. This should include:

  • The formalisation and funding of special needs coordinators in every school
  • Ensuring all schools are resourced to have at least two full time teacher equivalents, so they are safe and sustainable
  • Increased support for PB4L and other effective school-wide approaches to behaviour management; and
  • Better resourcing and increased staffing of specialist roles within the Ministry of Education’s Learning Support field staff.

2. There should be a requirement, monitored by ERO, for all Boards of Trustees to actively uphold safe environments at all schools, including the implementation of effective policies and processes that are clearly communicated to all parents and whanau about expectations of behaviour for both students and adults.
3. Resourcing of an effective, independent, “low bar”, free advocacy and/or mediation service to support families and schools where intervention is needed to support resolution of child/family/school conflicts should be a priority.
4. Regular funded professional learning and development should be provided for all teaching and teacher aide staff to effectively respond and de-escalate potentially violent situations.
5. School leaders should be provided with mentors and professional support, as well as counselling in situations of physical violence.
6. There should be further investigation of the incidence and types of offensive behaviour, violence and bullying by and between adults in school environments. The investigation should include teachers, parents and students.

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