Finnish anti-bullying scheme answer to NZ’s woes?

New Zealand has one of the worst rates of bullying in the world, but a Finnish programme might be the answer to turning around our horrific statistics, Laura Walters reports

A Finnish bullying prevention programme is being touted as a possible solution to New Zealand’s dismal school bullying rates.

Now KiVa is hoping the Ministry of Education will fund the rollout of the programme, which has been singled out by OECD experts, as well as Kiwi schools, as a proven way to reduce rates of school bullying.

Earlier this week, the OECD released its gold-standard, triennial survey on student achievement and wellbeing, known as PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment).

Again, there were concerning global trends around bullying, a lowered sense of belonging at school and an increased feeling of loneliness reported by the 15-year-olds surveyed. But New Zealand sticks out as one of the worst.

In 2015, New Zealand was rated second worst in the world for bullying, after Latvia.

The 2018 rates showed a significant increase in the proportion of Kiwi students who were being bullied.

The number of students who were made fun of at least a few times a month rose 6 percentage points to 23 percent; those who were hit or pushed multiple times a month rose to 9 percent; and those threatened by other students on a number of occasions in a month was up 2 percentage points to 10 percent.

Fewer students said they felt safe at school, and all groups of students surveyed reported some variation of feeling less of a sense of belonging at school.

New Zealand’s PISA results also showed an overwhelming number of students had a negative view of bullying.

New Zealand’s bullying problem is not new, and both schools and the Ministry of Education are aware of this problem in the context of the country’s high youth suicide rate.

However, an Education Review Office (ERO) report from May found while some schools had success with bullying prevention plans, many had not implemented programmes.

While 38 percent of schools were working towards a bullying-free environment "to a great extent" and 45 percent "to some extent", 17 percent of schools had done this "to a limited extent", ERO said.

Now some are looking to KiVa – an anti-bullying programme which was developed by the University of Turku upon commission from the Finnish Ministry of Education in 2006.

“The findings from this preliminary evaluation of KiVa suggest that after one year of implementation there was a significant perceived decrease in the frequency of bullying."

The scheme – aimed at years two to 10 - was proven effective in a randomised control trial of over 300 schools and then was fully-funded for Finnish schools to adopt nationwide.

In 2015, KiVa was singled out by PISA as having a “significant impact on reducing the incidence of bullying, and also made a difference in students’ attitudes toward bullies and victims”, based on randomised control trials.

The report said the majority of studies evaluating bullying prevention programmes found they had a positive impact… but in most cases the impact was modest.

In 2014, Viclink, a wholly owned commercial subsidiary of Victoria University, licence KiVa in New Zealand.

In 2017, after one year, Victoria University professor Vanessa Green conducted a preliminary evaluation of the scheme’s implementation in New Zealand.

Green concluded KiVa was associated with an increase in the percentage of students not bullied at school (increasing 10.5 percentage points to 58.3 percent) and the percentage of students not bullied over the internet (up 5.4 percentage points to 83.3 percent).

The study also found fewer students were engaging in bullying behaviour, with the number of people not bullying increasing by 9.7 percentage points to 84.3 percent. There has also been a 5-point increase in the percentage of students feeling completely safe at school, with 54.9 percent of students feeling safe after one year of KiVa.

“The findings from this preliminary evaluation of KiVa suggest that after one year of implementation there was a significant perceived decrease in the frequency of bullying, the frequency of victimisation (both traditionally and via the internet) and an increase in students’ feelings of safety within their school environment,” Green wrote in the evaluation.

Three years on, KiVa is run in 42 schools in New Zealand, with 12 more signed up for next year.

Schools range in decline, and include public, private, Catholic and Steiner schools.

KiVa's Kieu Pham said bullying was a self-perpetuating cycle, but KiVa helped children identify theirs and others' behaviour as bullying and intervene. Photo: Supplied

KiVa’s education programme manager in New Zealand Kieu Pham said the overall picture was really positive.

The programme had three parts, and was based on an understanding that bullying was a group phenomenon, and that collective responsibility was an important part of preventing and addressing bullying.

This meant children would be more likely to call out bullying behaviour when they saw it.

The first core part of the programme was prevention. This included learning what constituted bullying, being able to identify bullying, and understand the negative impacts of bullying.

The second part was about intervention, which included collectively designing and communicating a clear process to deal with bullying.

Pham said students were involved in the design, meaning they took ownership of the programme and its success.

The third phase was evidence, which included tracking bullying incidents, with the student voice at the centre of reporting.

Feedback from schools showed the importance of all members of the school community, including students, parents and teachers, being able to properly identify bullying.

Some kids said it helped them realise they were bullying others, and had since stopped.

Pham said the programme could be adapted for the local New Zealand context, which included being culturally responsive. While it gave teachers guidelines, it was not supposed to be a script; each school could make the programme its own.

Each school had one person – usually the principal or deputy principal – who drove the programme.

Pham said this was a key part of getting staff buy-in, which meant the programme would be properly implemented.

“We all want schools to be able to put their valuable time and effort into something that’s been proven to be effective.”

As the ERO report pointed out, proper implementation of anti-bullying programmes was one of the core challenges faced by Kiwi schools.

The tracking of KiVa in New Zealand showed of all the schools that used KiVa, there was an average reduction in bullying of 42 percent in three years, which spoke to successful implementation, she said.

“We all want schools to be able to put their valuable time and effort into something that’s been proven to be effective.”

The PISA report, and others, showed New Zealand was travelling in the wrong direction, and schools and government needed to be purposeful with interventions in order to make a positive difference, as soon as possible, she said.

It currently cost schools $3200 to sign up to KiVa, do the training and get all the necessary resources, then a maintenance cost of $4 per student per year.

Pham said it would cost $11 million to fund KiVa for all New Zealand students between years two and 10, for five years.

For $3.5m it could be rolled out in 500 schools for three years.

She said KiVa was currently discussing the programme with the Ministry of Education.

Ministry deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said she recognised KiVa had shown promising results overseas, and confirmed officials had discussed the programme and its results with those who run KiVa in New Zealand.

“There is a wide range of views on how to effectively address bullying behaviour. Evidence shows the culture change being sought with regards to bullying prevention requires a sustained multi-pronged effort and have an ongoing programme of work aimed at both improving supports for schools and ensuring efforts are aligned across a range of agencies,” Casey said.

The call to take a different approach to bullying comes in the same year as the Prime Minister launched her flagship Child and Youth Wellbeing Programme of Action, which includes a commitment to “supporting evidence-based initiatives to prevent and respond to bullying”, by rolling out tried and tested bullying prevention programmes in every school.

While the Tomorrows Schools Review and new legislation says schools have to put equal emphasis on creating a safe and inclusive environment as academic improvement.

But there was also a strong link between students’ sense of safety and belonging and their academic performance, according to the PISA survey.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft and Human Rights Commissioner Meng Foon have also both called for every school in the country to record every case of bullying and adopt anti-bullying schemes that have been proven to work.

Foon has specifically singled out KiVa as a successful initiative.

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