Sticks and stones may break bones, but it seems words can still do some serious damage to young people.

New results from the long-running CensusAtSchool/TataurangaKiTeKura project have found verbal abuse is the biggest bullying problem at schools, as reported by students aged between 9 and 18.

"Information about the scale of bullying is hard to get in New Zealand because we don't have a way of quantifying it on a national level," said Otahuhu College teacher Anne Patel, a member of the CensusAtSchool team.

"As CensusAtSchool is anonymous and available to students in every school in the country, we are getting a unique student-eye view of its scale and prevalence."


More than a third (36 per cent) of the school children who took part strongly agreed or agreed that verbal bullying was a problem at their school.

It was also found to be more of a problem for older students, with 39 per cent of high school students agreeing or strongly agreeing, compared with 29 per cent for primary school students.

Patrick Walsh, chairman of the Ministry of Education's Online Safety Advisory Group, said verbal bullying was difficult for teachers to control as it mostly occurred "outside of the classroom context", on playgrounds and before and after school.

"Most schools take the educative approach to get across to students the impact that harsh and cruel words can have on others," he said.

Cyberbullying was also prevalent, with 31 per cent of respondents agreeing that it was a problem at their school. Girls were more likely to report cyberbullying as a problem than boys, and again, it was more of a problem in high schools.

This was likely due to differences in the different bullying tactics of boys and girls, Mr Welsh said.

9 May, 2015 7:48am
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"Research would show that girls verbalise their bullying more than boys - they do it as well but they would also use physical bullying more than girls."

While only 19 per cent of boys and 22 per cent of girls in primary school agreed or strongly agreed that cyberbullying was a problem, this increased to 31 per cent and 40 per cent respectively for high school students.

Mr Wash said students who were the victims of cyber-bullying often returned to sites like, even though they knew they would be bullied there.

"We're dealing with a lot of sexting, and bullying comes out of that," he said.

The passing of the Harmful Digital Communications Bill would be important in the control of cyber bullying, he said.

"There is a small core that resists the educative approach and they do need some sanctions to actually get them to change their behaviour," he said.

There was also a difference in results between co-ed and single-sex schools. A total of 32 per cent of boys in co-ed schools strongly agreed or agreed that cyber bullying was a problem, against 23 per cent of boys in single-sex schools.

However, when it came to female students, the results were similar despite what type of school they attended - 40 per cent of girls in both co-ed and single-sex schools strongly agreed or agreed that cyber bullying was a problem in their school.

Physical bullying was more likely to be reported as a problem at co-ed high schools, where 24 per cent of boys and 17 per cent of girls strongly agreed or agreed that it was a problem.

In comparison, at single-sex schools, 16 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of girls reported it as a problem at their schools.

This was of particular interest to teacher Anne Patel.

"The question we now need to ask is: why this is? What is it about these schools that students perceive bullying to be less of a problem?"

The answers to these questions would require further research, Mr Welsh said.

"It requires more in-depth research to find whether that's just an anomaly or it's more across the board and if it is, what the solutions might be."

It was the first time the biennial survey had asked about bullying since it started in 2003.

CensusAtSchool is a collaborative project involving teachers, the University of Auckland's Department of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education.

It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people, and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, Japan and South Africa.

More than 18,392 students from 381 schools across New Zealand took part in this years CensusAtSchool, which started on March 16.