Problems at school 

My child’s being bullied at school. What can I do about it?

The Ministry of Education defines bullying as behaviour that repeatedly harms someone else physically (e.g. hitting, destroying property), verbally (e.g. teasing or threatening) and/or by damaging the victim’s self esteem. It can happen in a range of situations including face-to-face, on the internet and by mobile phone. Bullying is essentially behaviour that makes the person being bullied feel afraid or uncomfortable.

The Ministry recommends a number of steps to help cope with a situation where a child is being bullied.  You can try:

  • talking to your child and 
  • making a plan so that your child has strategies to try and knows what to do if the strategies don't work
  • talking to the school (even if the bullying has stopped) so that they are aware of the situation and can tell you what actions they'll take to make the school environment safe.

If they don't already, the school may be interested in running the Kia Kaha anti-bullying programme in school. The Kia Kaha programme is based on the principle that schools and communities should have a zero-tolerance for bullying; that bullying is never the victim’s fault; and that schools should have a “telling environment” (i.e. where people feel it is okay to tell someone if bullying is going on).

If the bullying is of a very serious nature, or your child is coming home with injuries, you need to ask for an emergency meeting with your school. Each school will have its own policy and procedure for dealing with violence and abuse in schools. This could include mediation, suspension, or in extreme cases, expulsion. You might also consider reporting it to the Police Youth Aid Officer, as it is a criminal act to physically abuse someone.

You can view the Ministry of Educations guidelines for schools, on bullying prevention and response.

We talk more about different types of bullying on our Bullying page.

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I told the school about my child being bullied but they haven’t done anything to fix the problem. What should I do?

All schools are legally obliged to provide a safe and bullying-free environment for their pupils. If you have already approached your child’s teacher and school principal, you can escalate your complaint to the school’s Board of Trustees. You’ll probably attend a meeting with the Board to discuss the issue.

If you’re unsatisfied with how the Board is handling your complaint, you can escalate it to the Education Review Office, the Ministry of Education, the Ombudsman or the Commissioner for Children.
There’s more about dealing with school bullying in chapter 9 of Schools and the right to discipline.  

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My child’s failing maths. Can I get help for him?

There are different options for helping your child if they are struggling with their school work:

Talk to your child’s teacher

Talking to the teacher (e.g. at a parent-teacher interview) is a good way to get a better understanding of how your child is doing and what might be stopping them from doing better. It may be due to behavioural problems or your child may have problems paying attention in class. The teacher might offer some useful advice, and will know about any extra tutoring available (if this is likely to help).  Many schools run homework clubs too.
Online assistance

There are many great websites offering help and support with school subjects, for example: 

  • WickEd, is a Ministry of Education website aimed at 7-12 year olds. 
  • For NCEA students there is Study it, a New Zealand website that can provide support in a range of subjects. It makes clear the standards involved and provides old test questions to practise on. 

Private tuition

If you can afford it, you could also consider getting some private tuition for your child. For more information about how to find a tutor, see the next question.

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Where can I find a tutor to help my child?

Private tuition is one way to provide extra learning support to your child, either to help them if they are struggling or to provide extra practice to further improve their skills. Private tuition can be provided one-to-one (i.e. the tutor works with your child alone) or in small groups. If you are worried about the cost, consider hiring a secondary school or university student to tutor your child.

This website has advice on finding a suitable tutor.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find a tutor to suit your child’s needs and your budget.

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How do I make a complaint about a teacher?

If you want to make a complaint about a teacher, you should discuss your concern with the dean, head teacher or principal of the school. The school will have a complaints procedure that you can follow. If you are not satisfied with the results of your complaint, you can make a formal complaint in writing to your school’s Board of Trustees.

In extreme circumstances, you can lodge a complaint with the Education Council of New Zealand, which is the professional organisation for New Zealand teachers. 

You can only make a complaint to the Education Council directly, if:

  • the teacher is not currently working as a teacher and so the school is unable to deal with the complaint
  • you think the employer will not be able to deal with the complaint because of a conflict of interest
  • you are not satisfied with the way in which the school is dealing with the complaint
  • there are other exceptional circumstances

You can read the Education Council's complaints policy.

For help and advice in making a written complaint to a school or the Education Council see your local CAB.

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My child is having ongoing problems with the teacher. Do I have the right to ask for a change of teacher or class?

It might be possible for your child to move to another class. First of all though, it would be a good idea to ensure you have had an in-depth discussion about the situation with your child so that you have as much information as possible – at least from your child’s perspective – before taking any further action.

Depending on what the discussion reveals, if you find your child has a genuine concern, and if it is appropriate, an option might be to invite the teacher to a sit-down discussion with you and your child. The focus of the discussion could be on fostering a better understanding between them and on finding solutions/compromises that work for both. 

If this approach does not work or is not possible, then you could approach the dean or school principal with your problem, and work together to come up with a solution that may involve changing teachers or classes, or if you are concerned about a teacher’s conduct, competence, or mental fitness you can make a complaint (see the previous question).
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My daughter hates school and wants to leave. I don’t know whether I should let her or not.  What are the options?

Once your child turns 16, even if you want them to attend school they no longer have to go.

If your daughter is under the age of 16, and has a suitable training course or job arranged, she may be granted an “early leaving exemption” as long as she has your permission. 

The first thing to do is discuss with her what she thinks about school and her plans for the future. You can also talk things over with your daughter’s teacher, the form dean, and the school careers counsellor.

Careers New Zealand is a government service which provides free advice to help people plan their careers. They can help your daughter understand what choices are available to her, and help her to understand what skills she needs, to get where she wants to be.

More information about leaving school early is on the Careers New Zealand website. You can also chat to a representative by calling 0800 222 733 or arrange an appointment for your daughter to receive one-on-one advice and assistance.

Leaving school doesn’t necessarily mean your daughter’s chance of an education is over – sometimes people choose to return to high school as an adult, to get the credits they need, or go to university or other tertiary training course after working for a while. Once she is 20, she could be admitted to university without University Entrance.