Two days after National MP Sam Uffindell resigned following allegations of historic bullying, an expert said the situation was ‘symptomatic of a wider problem’.
John Fenaughty, a professor of social work at the University of Auckland who specializes in youth welfare, told Breakfast that the allegations against Uffindell did not surprise him as they reflected New Zealand’s consistent poor performance in the global action on bullying.
The most recent study school bullying rates in the OECD showed that New Zealand was the second highest out of 48 countries.
“I think some schools in particular are really struggling with certain cultural elements, and of course we look back a few decades on what was going on and since that time there’s been a lot of change,” Fenaughty said.
“Nevertheless, we are still seeing really concerning bullying rates.”
He described bullying as ‘endemic to schools’ and said ‘what we really need is for schools to admit ‘yes there is bullying, and that’s what we’re doing. to manage it proactively”.
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“There’s no school where there’s no bullying, it’s just not possible, but there are good schools that can handle bullying when it happens.
“If the culture (of a school) rewards bullying, if it rewards violent behavior, if it rewards intolerance of difference, then we start to have a culture that fosters those kinds of situations where people can get righteousness themselves.”
And bullying fundamentally interrupts “the key element of adolescent development, which is finding out who you are,” Fenaughty added.
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“Boarding school is a special context because there is no escape. It’s not like you can go home and get away with it at the end of the day…you’re pretty much there around this culture all the time, and in that way it’s similar to cyberbullying in some ways.
“I think there are particular concerns about the culture and the policies and processes at boarding schools.”
But, Fenaughty is certain that the situation can improve.
“It’s a complicated problem, but we have a number of levers we can pull to solve it.”
Uffindell has been removed from the National caucus pending the results of an investigation.
He admitted to assaulting a younger student at school, but denies allegations of bullying behavior while at college.