Kiwi schools are falling behind Australian schools in developing anti-bullying policies, research has found.
A joint study by Otago University and the Australian Catholic University revealed that only one-third of New Zealand schools had an anti-bullying policy in late 2009, compared with 75 per cent of schools in the Australian state of Victoria.
As well, the average Kiwi school's policies covered only 29 per cent of a standardised list of anti-bullying measures, against 50 per cent in the average Victorian school.
"Few policies from New Zealand and Victoria stated how a teacher should respond to an incident of bullying, and even fewer mentioned the role of any other school staff," the study found.
"New Zealand school policies rated poorly on how they would support victims and bullies, and rarely mentioned follow-up of the incident."
Otago researcher Dr Louise Marsh, who led the New Zealand end of the study, said the results reflected differing philosophies in the two countries.
"Anti-bullying policies are mandatory in Australia, but New Zealand schools are not specifically required by legislation to have them," she said.
The researchers had not been able to establish whether Victorian schools had lower rates of bullying and higher feelings of self-worth among the students than New Zealand schools.
"What I saw as a key difference was that the Australian Government provided help and resources to schools to assist them in developing these policies and deal with bullying incidents," Dr Marsh said.
NZ schools were not taking bullying any less seriously than Australian schools, but they needed more Government assistance in dealing with it.
In a report last year on bullying at Hutt Valley High School, Ombudsman David McGee recommended making anti-bullying programmes compulsory for all schools.
Although this has not been done, Prime Minister John Key has ordered the Education Review Office to develop "indicators of student wellbeing," including bullying.
These are to be published early next year.
Resources for schools, including sample surveys, were published this week on a new website, wellbeingatschool.org.nz.
The Ministry of Education's northern regional manager, Murray Williams, said the website had been designed to help schools, teachers and parents deal with and prevent bullying.
Mr Williams said the ministry continued to work with schools which had come up with alternative ways to help improve behaviour - and therefore reduce the amount of bullying.
Such programmes include restorative justice systems, having peer-mediators monitoring the playground at lunchtimes and other creative ideas.
"I know one school where [the code] is written on the walls and murals around the playground.
"There are messages on different walls and in those areas children see that this is the area that you have to do this - be kind, for example."