Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Would the Real Bully Please Stand Up?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Would the Real Bully Please Stand Up?

Article excerpt


When principals decide to exclude a student following an angry outburst or a fight there is some evidence they may be excluding the victims of bullying. Principals in New Zealand send home about three percent of the total school population each year on fixed term exclusion or stand-down. A study of ten students who had been stood-down found that all of the students were to some degree isolated at school at the time of the stand-down and that seven of the students were also being bullied. This article investigates the connection between being safe, being isolated, being bullied and being stood down through the stories of four of these students. These stories reveal that interrogating unacceptable school behaviour in terms of isolation and its potential for bullying contexts may result in a safer return to school following stand-down.

Keywords: middle school, bullying, exclusion, student safety


Each year school principals temporarily exclude or "stand-down" just under three percent of the school population. This practice enables principals to send home students whose behaviour is considered either a dangerous example or likely to cause harm to other students (Education Act, 1989). A doctoral study (Towl, 2012) investigating the return to school following a stand-down for 10 New Zealand students suggests that principals may be standing down victims of bullying. Towl's (2012) study found an association between being stood down and being bullied at school. This anomaly appeared to come about through community expectations for safe school environments and consequent focus on zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour. As a consequence of this principals may either miss the evidence that the students they stand-down may be being bullied or may euphemise the bullying as a natural part of socialisation. The students in Towl's (2012) study had behaved in ways that might be perceived as making other members of the school community unsafe. They had sworn at school staff, hit other students, set fires and brought alcohol to school. The narratives of seven of the ten students, however, revealed that the stand-down was a consequence of their unsuccessful strategies to resolve bullying contexts. This article uses the narratives of four of these seven bullied students to show that safe schools are more about managing relationships than managing risk and that stand-down presents an opportunity to help students learn legitimate ways to resolve conflict.

The provision to suspend attendance is long established in New Zealand schools (Towl, 2012). The term "stand-down" came into use with the Education Amendment Act Number Two (1998). It is similar to fixed term suspension in earlier legislation (Education Act, 1964) and is the least serious of the school exclusion provisions, available under sections 13 to 19 of the Education Act (1989). The principal may stand down a student for a set period while "suspension" transfers the decision to either reinstate or exclude the child to the school's Board of Trustees. The provision to stand down a student is similar, in Australia, to suspension for 1 - 5 days and in Great Britain, to exclusion for a fixed period. Incidents that prompt the decision to stand-down tend to be breaches of long established social representations of acceptable behaviour in the wider society (Moscovici, 1988; Towl, 2012). Disrespect to adults, hitting other students and refusing to obey rules are among the most common reasons principals give for standing a student down (MOE, 2012). The perceived importance given at school to being able to demonstrate these requirements of self-governance as criteria of membership to adult society shows both the significance of school learning about behaviour to the longer timescales of community membership (Lemke, 2000) and the role of school based exclusion provisions as tools to monitor and manage entry to adult society (Towl, 2012).

It is well established that being stood down or suspended is detrimental to young people (Fergusson, Swain-Campbell, & Horwood, 2002; Hemphill, Toumbourou, Todd, Herrenkohl, McMorris, & Catalano, 2006). …

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