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"Don't retaliate, but tell someone" is the simple rule for dealing with bullying at Auckland's Mt Roskill Grammar School.

The multicultural decile four school was the first in the country to adopt the Peace Foundation's "Cool Schools" peer mediation programme back in 1995 and now trains 200 of its 2100 students as mediators.

The head of its guidance team, Margaret Hoogendoorn, says all Year 9 students are taught not to fight back against bullies.

"There is never an excuse for violence," she says. "We [also] discourage students from retaliating verbally. We teach them a saying by Gandhi that 'an eye for an eye makes everyone blind'."

Instead, the Year 9 students are taught to report every incident of bullying or harassment to one of the 200 student mediators, one of 16 "harassment contact teachers" whose photos appear in every classroom, one of four counsellors or one of six deputy principals.

"We encourage snitching," Ms Hoogendoorn says. "We teach that all abuse continues to happen in an environment of silence. The only way to counter abuse of any kind is to tell and to reach out for help.

"They are often very fearful of snitching because they learned at primary school and intermediate that it can lead to bullying becoming worse. We say we promise it will not make it worse at this school, we have ways of dealing with it where the identity of the snitcher is not disclosed."

The peer mediators are chosen in years 11 or 12. Officially they "lead in the school community by promoting and modelling fairness and respect for others, watching out for harassment and bullying, and supporting students to get help when needed".

"I see the role as just being social justice activists in school," says Joseph Windsor, a Year 13 student who has been a mediator for two years. Manasi Deshpande, also in Year 13, says: "You kind of stick up for people, speak up against injustice."

Windsor has never actually had to do a formal mediation, when two mediators get together with two or more students involved in a dispute. No adults are included.

Deshpande has been asked to do it three or four times and says in all cases the problems arose from "misunderstandings". "Once we talk it through, a lot of the time it was a misunderstanding and people just needed to be clear where everyone was coming from," she says.

In more serious cases, the school organises larger "restorative justice" meetings which can involve two or more students, plus their friends and parents, sometimes other family members and some or all of their teachers and counsellors. There were three large meetings of up to 30 people last year and 15 smaller meetings.

"They're not focusing on who is good or who is bad, but the incident has happened and what can now happen to repair the harm," Hoogendoorn says.

She says bullies often find the process much worse than other punishments such as detentions. Students often ask the bully to apologise to the whole class.

"They are confronted with the parents of the child they have harmed," she says. "Restorative practices are a very powerful and potent way of holding a student accountable for wrongdoing."

If this still doesn't solve the problem, or if a bully refuses to attend a meeting, more conventional penalties are imposed.

Last week a girl was stood down for three days and two others had to attend a Saturday detention, after abusing and threatening another girl whose mother, Cilesta Onverwacht, spoke out against the school's approach on Campbell Live.

School principal Greg Watson says Onverwacht's daughter and three other students had a mediation meeting with two counsellors this week and reached "an agreement on conduct". He says that if the previous behaviour happens again there will be "consequences".

"I have excluded [expelled] students for ongoing harassment and failure to meet the expectation of the school with regard to respectful relationships," he says. "Of course that has to be the bottom line."