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.

If you are concerned about your child’s safety, contact the school for an urgent meeting. Every school will have their own policies and procedures 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.

If you don’t have immediate concerns for your child’s safety, you can follow these steps recommended by the Ministry:

  1. talking to your child and keeping a record of what has occurred and when
  2. making a plan so that your child has strategies to try and knows what to do if the strategies don't work
  3. 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.
  4. regularly check with your child about whether the bullying is continuing

The Bullying Prevention Advisory Group’s Bullying Free NZ website has information about how you can talk to your child’s school about bullying, as well as more general information about responding to bullying.

We talk more about different types of bullying, including cyber 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. This includes having policies and procedures to prevent bullying behaviours and dealing with incidents of bullying. If you’re not happy about how the school has responded to the bullying you can make a written complaint to the school’s Board of Trustees. You’ll probably be invited to 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, or the Commissioner for Children.

There’s more about dealing with school bullying in chapter 4 of the Community Law Centres book, Problems at school.  

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My child’s not doing very well in maths. Can I get help for him?

The Ministry of Education has general advice about how you can support your child’s education at home. If your child is struggling with their school work despite your support, your first step is probably to talk to your child’s teacher. This is a good way to get a better understanding of how your child is doing and what might be preventing them from doing better. The teacher may be able to offer useful advice, and may know about any extra tutoring available if this is appropriate. 

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. 

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

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How 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, It may be cheaper to hire a secondary school or university student to tutor your child.

You can ask around for recommendations, for example from your child’s school or from other parents. You’ll want someone who: 

  • is very familiar with the school curriculum and, if applicable, the NCEA standards; 
  • has a good understanding of the particular subject that your child requires help with
  • can tailor their tutoring methods to suit your child
  • your child is comfortable with and gets along with

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 first 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.

If this doesn’t satisfactorily resolve the issue you can contact your nearest Ministry of Education office or the Ombudsman for advice. You could also lodge a complaint with the Education Council of New Zealand.  

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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 discuss the situation with your child about what the problems are and what your child wants to happen.

Depending on what the discussion reveals, it might be useful 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 you aren’t happy with the teacher’s response to your concerns, you could approach the dean or school principal with the issue, and work together to come up with a solution that may involve changing classes, or if you are concerned about a teacher’s conduct or competence 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.

There’s more information for young people thinking about leaving school before the age of 16 on the Ministry of Education website.

You can also contact Careers New Zealand about what job choices might be available to her if she leaves school, or look at their School Leaver website.

When a young person leaves before finishing secondary school this doesn’t necessarily mean their education is over - sometimes people choose to return to secondary school as an adult to get the qualifications they need, or go on tertiary education after working for a while. Once she is 20, she could be admitted to university without having University Entrance.