Anti-bullying strategies have failed to eliminate bullying even in the "best" schools, the Education Review Office says.
A major evaluation released today has found that 39 per cent of all NZ school students have been bullied at their current schools - 46 per cent of primary school students and 31 per cent of secondary students.
Boys were more likely to have been bullied (41 per cent) than girls (33 per cent).
Sixty of the 11,000 students surveyed — about 0.6 per cent — wrote in something other than male or female when asked for their gender.
That small "gender-diverse" group was the most likely to have been bullied (58 per cent). The survey did not ask about sexual orientation.
Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said the report showed that bullying was still "a blight on our society and a blight on our schools".
"Sadly, this report just shows that, whatever our concerns about it, we haven't cracked it yet, we just haven't, and for whatever reason we have got to get a lot better because even in the schools that apparently have the best programmes we are still falling woefully short," he said.
"We also know that those who bully are themselves often victims who have been bullied and come from environments that are volatile and violent, and often they are perpetuating the cycle that has gone on."
The evaluation also found that 38 per cent of New Zealand schools were working towards a bullying-free environment "to a great extent", 45 per cent "to some extent" and only 17 per cent "to a limited extent".
But the quality of the school environment made only a limited difference to the proportion of students who said they had been bullied at their current school.
More than half (56 per cent) of students at schools judged to have "unsatisfactory" school climates have been bullied at their current schools.
But so were 47 per cent of students at schools with "satisfactory" climates, and 38 per cent of students even at schools judged to have "good" climates.
Education Review Office (ERO) chief executive Nicholas Pole said the finding showed there was still "a lot of work to be done to gain a greater understanding of school bullying and what it will take to eliminate bullying from our schools".
In a report summary for schools, the agency says the cross-agency Bullying-Free NZ Framework has not eliminated bullying and there is clearly "no silver bullet".
"It is possible the Bullying-Free NZ Framework is missing some important elements, or that the elements where performance is weaker (use of data, support for student agency) are crucially important to successful prevention," the ERO said.
"It may also be that a focus on generic bullying prevention can only go so far, and further improvements can only come from more targeted actions focused on specific issues like racism and homophobia.
"Finally, many of the most salient drivers of bullying may be beyond schools' direct control, related to parental attitudes and broader societal issues."
Māori students were the most likely to be bullied (42 per cent), but Europeans were close behind (40 per cent).
Pacific (36 per cent) and Asian students (32 per cent) were the least likely to have been bullied.
The main forms of bullying were being left out by other students (38 per cent of all students), being called names or put down (36 per cent) and having lies or bad stories spread about them (29 per cent).
Others included: being made to do something they didn't want to do (22 per cent), having personal things damaged or stolen (21 per cent), being hit, pushed, kicked, punched or choked (21 per cent), being threatened (17 per cent) and having nasty messages left on their phone or computer (12 per cent).
A huge majority (83 per cent) of students said they had learned at their current school what to say or do if they experienced bullying.
A total of 65 per cent said they did what they had been taught to do when bullying occurred.
However only 35 per cent of those who did what they had been taught said that the bullying stopped.
The largest number (43 per cent) said the bullying stopped for a bit and then started again, 16 per cent said the bullying did not stop, and 6 per cent said it had become worse.
The three main strategies that students were taught were to report bullying to teachers or other adults, to walk away and ignore the bullying, and to "confront the bully non-violently" in defence of either themselves or others. The report suggests that the patchy outcomes could be because many schools are not implementing the full Bullying-Free NZ Framework properly.
The schools were rated best at having effective policies and procedures (49 per cent were rated "good" on this). But the two elements of the framework on which the fewest schools were rated "good" were "enabling student leadership, agency and voice" through roles such as peer mediators (24 per cent of schools) and monitoring data on bullying (19 per cent).
Only half the schools used a Wellbeing@School survey offered by the NZ Council for Educational Research, which the ERO said could "provide primary evidence of the effectiveness of practices and programmes".