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Fear of bullying is stopping some children getting an education, a new report by the Children's Commissioner says.
In the report, to be officially released tomorrow at a school violence summit in Wellington, Commissioner Cindy Kiro said bullying was a problem in all schools.
The report was prompted by "indications from all quarters" that school violence was affecting the welfare of a many students, she said.
"Calls to my office, our engagement with children and young people, the Office's Young People's Reference Group and media coverage of some severe incidents indicated it was timely to do an independent inquiry into peer bullying, violence and abuse," she said.
The report recommended changes to the school system and offered a "comprehensive guide to understanding and successfully dealing with bullying and violence in schools", she said.
Dr Kiro said the report revealed the impact of not addressing bullying was far reaching and linked to future difficulties in life.
In the short-term, studies showed victims of bullying suffered higher than normal absenteeism and early school dropout rates.
"Students cannot learn effectively if they are physically or verbally abused, victims of violence or bullying, or if their school is unsafe," she said.
Bullying also extended beyond the school gate via the internet and cellphones, she said.
"The extensive reach of these forms of bullying often mean the victim gets no respite and the bullying is not restricted to time at school but is ongoing."
Bullying was not gender specific, as girls were just as likely to fight as boys, but the effect of appearance-related teasing was often more enduring in girls, Dr Kiro said.
"This report is not to blame and shame. While there are indications that some schools are not dealing with this problem appropriately, more schools than not are committed to providing a safe environment and have clear whole school policies and procedures to ensure the issue of bullying is addressed," she said.
But schools could not afford to be complacent as the environment changed from year to year.
"This inquiry is focused on the way forward, with solutions and equipping teachers and schools with information on how to deal with bullying when it happens."
The report's key finding was that schools that worked to improve their social environment, rather than focusing on the bullies, were the most effective.
Recommendations to schools included student and teacher training on responding to violence or bullying, setting up a safe and confidential reporting system and communicating with parents, police and other agencies.
It also suggested schools made lunch breaks shorter and stagger bell times for different classes to limit the number of children unsupervised at any one time, the Sunday Star Times reported.
The inquiry warned that victims could sue teachers and schools that were slack in dealing with bullying.
"We stress that aggressive, violent and bullying antisocial behaviour will only be effectively reduced when the intervention involves an ongoing commitment at multiple levels," Dr Kiro said.
"New Zealanders have a high tolerance for violence and while schools cannot be responsible for the ills of society, schools can make a difference in how violence is dealt with."
Education Minister Anne Tolley would not say whether the recommendations would promote change.
Ms Tolley told the newspaper there was no easy solution to bullying but she read the report "with interest".