New Zealand still has a ''massive'' problem with violence and bullying in schools, and not enough is being done to tackle the issue, the Human Rights Commission says.

Chief Commissioner David Rutherford made the blunt assessment during a keynote speech at the New Zealand School Trustees Association's annual conference at the Regent Theatre in Dunedin yesterday.

The three-day conference has drawn 1000 school trustees to the city from schools throughout New Zealand.

Rutherford told the audience the Government was already on notice from the United Nations, which in 2012 expressed concern at ''widespread'' violence and bullying in New Zealand's schools.

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And earlier this year, the UN ''put the New Zealand Government on notice'' it wanted an assessment next year on how effective the Government had been in tackling the problem.

Unless rapid progress was made, it was an assessment the Government would likely fail, he predicted.

Across New Zealand, 20 per cent of children faced bullying in schools - a figure that was fairly static, and was twice the 10 per cent average for all countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he said.

It was a fundamental human right for children to be safe in school, ''and the plain fact is children in New Zealand are not as safe as they should be'', Rutherford said.

The issue was linked to New Zealand's wider problem of family violence, and men, in particular, needed to be part of the solution, he said.

Family violence was a gender issue - men were overwhelmingly responsible for abusing, bullying and killing women, he said.

It was also an indigenous rights issue, as Maori were ''more likely'' to be both victims and offenders, he said.

And, when it came to bullying, families, schools and entire communities needed to work together to oppose bullying.

The focus should be on tackling ''at risk'' behaviours that led to bullying, starting right from kindergarten, he believed.

Young people needed to know how to stop bullying, but also know the adults in their lives would not stay silent and would instead take a stand against bullying, he said.

At present, adults had ''real difficulty'' recognising bullying, and pupils often complained their teachers saw nothing when it occurred.

Those who suffered most were those who felt the most alone, he said.

''We need to listen to the children.''

Studies also suggested only 20 per cent of people who witnessed bullying would stand up for the victim. Everyone else was reinforcing the bullying, Rutherford said.

In Finland, the KiVa anti-bullying programme - focused on education, intervention and monitoring initiatives - had led to a 50 per cent drop in bullying, he said.

It had been adopted in about 20 schools, but the New Zealand Government was yet to introduce a formal anti-bullying programme - despite having one for cyber-bullying.

Anti-bullying guidelines had been distributed in 2015, but 90 per cent of school board trustees reported they ''hadn't heard of them''.

''I don't blame you ... that's an issue about communicating.''

It was possible to eliminate violence and bullying in schools, but New Zealand should aim first for a 50% reduction, he said.

That would only just bring it back to the OECD average, but would help hundreds of thousands of pupils across New Zealand.