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Govt's made schools "less safe" - Carter

Mon 4 Apr 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

Independent MP Chris Carter has slammed Prime Minister John Key for ‘jumping on a public bandwagon' over bullying, claiming the current Government has actually made schools less safe for students by cutting funding for an anti-bullying initiative. The openly-gay Carter, a former Education Minister, launched a range of initiatives in 2008 aimed at making schools safer places and to ensure they had anti-bullying programmes and resources in place. It was just after the Youth '07 Health and Wellbeing of Secondary School Students in New Zealand Report, which found three times as many gay and bi students were bullied weekly at school compared to their straight peers. “I wanted schools to be focused on the issue of bullying and on changing school culture to encourage zero tolerance to bullying,” Carter recalls. “At the time National ridiculed my package as ‘PC nonsense' and ‘another example of the nanny state at work'.” The ex-Labour MP says his then-party's initiatives included web-based resources for all schools, student materials and new action by the Education Review Office to ensure that every school had in place procedures and programmes which addressed bullying. “I said at the time that every parent had the right to expect their child to be safe from bullying in any New Zealand school,” Carter adds. From Term 3, 2008 ERO was required as part of their three-yearly reviews of individual schools, to ask whether there had been any specific examples of serious bullying and if so how had this been addressed. Schools were also required to have policies that dealt with bullying in their school charter. Primary and secondary students helped to develop anti-bullying teaching booklets, badges and resources called Step Up and Be Safe, which were sent out to all schools. Carter recalls this material was particularly ridiculed by then National Party Education Spokesperson Anne Tolley and Leader John Key. “John Key's call for schools to address bullying rings hollow when the reality is that the 2008 comprehensive anti-bullying package has subsequently been gutted by funding cuts,” Carter says. “In addition ERO's monitoring of best practise in schools, including ensuring policies dealing with bullying programmes are in place, have been weakened by National's decision to no longer require schools to have an ERO review every three years. “If John Key is sincere about wanting to make schools safer then blaming schools themselves for the problem will not solve it.” Thursday 14 April is Pink Shirt Day and a youth-led campaign is in full swing aiming to get 1,000 letters to send to the Prime Minister calling for compulsory education on sexual and gender identities in schools. “In many New Zealand schools the needs of queer students are completely disregarded, a direct violation of their human rights. All individuals are entitled to certain basic rights under any circumstances, the most fundamental of which is the right to physical and emotional safety,” the Pink Shirt Day lobby group says. Gay Olympian Blake Skjellerup is the face of the campaign and his comments are beginning to get traction in the mainstream media. The campaign wants personal stories and letter writers. You can get involved here.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Monday, 4th April 2011 - 12:23pm

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