Jack distinctly remembers the fear he experienced as a 13-year-old boy boarding at New Plymouth Boys’ High School during the early 90s. 

“I would lie in bed, terrified that at any moment someone was going to pound me or flip me from my bunk onto the hard floor.”

Jack, who asked Re: not to use his real name for privacy reasons, and many others who went to boarding schools across Aotearoa have been reflecting on their high school experiences - and the bullying culture that’s been allowed to continue there for generations. 

The bullying culture at Aotearoa’s private schools and boarding schools is under the spotlight after Stuff first reported about National MP Sam Uffindell’s bullying and past violent behaviour as a high schooler. 

When Uffindell was 16, he was “asked to leave” King’s College in Auckland after attacking a 13-year-old boy. 

For Jack, reading the accounts of how Sam Uffindell had beaten up a 13-year old boy, was “a carbon copy of what I experienced”. 

Violence was common and if you weren’t on the rugby team or you were different in any way, then you’d be the target of it - becoming tackling practice for the boys who played rugby, Jack said.

“I would go home with bruises up and down my arm and lie to my mother about how I got them. I would cry and say I didn't want to go back. That I hated it there.”

He said this behaviour has been happening for generations and that students and some staff saw it as tradition.

“A lot of the boys were second or third generation [students at the school].”

“It was seen as the way things were.”

In the decades since, Jack has seen his old school pop up in the media again and again for the same bullying issues.

“Things may have changed, but not enough for this to not be in the news again.”

Re: contacted New Plymouth Boys’ High School for comment on Jack's experience and how the school currently handles bullying, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

Bullied or bystander?

Mark boarded at Christ’s College in Christchurch around 2010.

Mark, who asked Re: not to use his real name for privacy reasons, said violence was an expected part of your boarding school experience.

“One incident I remember happened when I was in fourth form against a big sixth form dude,” Mark said.

“He gave me a petrol pump - where they'd hold you down on the ground, stick their knee into your bicep and pump your arm up and down.”

“It is excruciating pain. I bawled my eyes out.” 

Mark said most people experienced this kind of treatment at some point but that he didn’t see this as bullying at the time.

What he did recognise as bullying was the psychological torment some boys would inflict on the “weaker” boys. 

The rugby players and “old school New Zealand farm boys” were the biggest bullies, he said. 

They would target kids who didn’t have many friends and who struggled in the boarding school environment, he said. 

“It was mostly constant verbal abuse and antagonisation. They wound them up until they cracked.They are looking to see them lose it.” 

Mark said he didn’t participate but was friends with the bullies and feels a lot of guilt about letting it happen. 

“I think I could have held my own against the bullies and it fucks me off I didn’t. I was young and just trying to navigate it all. I was selfish.” 

Mark said he has learnt from that guilt, making a conscious decision as an adult to not let that same culture slide.

“I decided that I wasn’t going to allow my friends to be racist or sexist anymore. If they said those things I was going to call them out and say it was bullshit,” he said.

“I wish I was mature enough back in high school to do that.”

Christ’s College executive principal Garth Wynne said “bullying was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now”.

He encouraged former students concerned about their time at the school to reach out to him.

Wynne said the staff have protocols for acting on any signs of bullying and encourage boys to speak to their housemaster, mentors, counsellors or pastoral care within the school about this.

Christ’s College also has a system which allows students to anonymously report bullying or harmful behaviour, and all reports are investigated, Wynne said. 

The evolution of harassment

Jane, who asked Re: not to use her real name for privacy reasons, was a student at King’s College in Auckland in recent years - the same school Uffindell was asked to leave in the early 2000s. 

She said the bullying has persisted but that it has evolved with technology. 

“It’s no longer the physical violence which is problematic, it’s the cyber stuff.”

When Jane was 15 and in Year 11, a photo of a nude girl started spreading around the school with people claiming it was of her when it wasn’t.

 “After that, I was coerced into sending nude photos to a boy in my class after he endlessly pestered me.”

The boy then shared it around the whole school, she said, including airdropping it to everyone on public transport.

Jane said this is just one example of how boys treated girls at the school. 

“It’s hypermasculine and feels like girls going to a boy school,” she said.

“My experience really shows the lack of respect these boys have for women.”

Jane said girls were routinely told things like “make me a sandwich”, “go back to the kitchen” and “nobody wants you here”.

After her experience, Jane said she went to her female teacher and was asked “what kind of an image are you setting for yourself” with her online behaviour.

“The teachers did nothing.”

King’s College headmaster Simon Lamb said the teacher disputed how the incident was relayed to Re:. 

“She says she would never take that approach,” Lamb said. He also claimed that Jane was provided a counsellor for emotional support.

Lamb said the school has invested in pastoral care for students and emphasised the importance they place on student wellbeing and respect for others.

“Female students have been a welcome part of King’s College since 1980. We believe this has made the school a better place to the benefit of all students.”

The school has stepped up acceptance, diversity and inclusion initiatives, he said, including a staff-supported LGBTIQ+ group.

This was an ongoing journey for King’s College, he said 

“Issues may arise from time to time and when they do, we do our best to resolve them.”

A teacher’s perspective

Bailey, who asked Re: not to include her full name for privacy reasons, taught at a private school in Auckland last year but has since left due to the lack of action around experiences people like Jane experienced. 

Bailey said a boy at this school also bullied a girl into sending nude photos of herself and then shared them with his rugby team. 

Bailey said she heard the boys talking about this in class and went straight to the principal to report it. 

She said she told him she didn’t want the boys in her class because of how disgusting she found their behaviour. 

“This is rape culture to a tee. This should have been reported to the police,” she said.

She claimed the principal questioned her, allegedly saying “I don’t think any of my boys would be doing something like that”. 

But she said he promised he would deal with it.

A week later, the boys were back in her class. They had not been suspended, expelled and the police were not called.

Bailey went back to the principal who told her “we have to be really careful because this boy's parents have donated money to the school”.

“There are no boundaries,” Bailey said.

“Everything is dealt with internally. All of these behavioural and bullying issues. They don't get the police involved. [The students responsible] are never expelled. Not even put on supervision.” 

Bailey said it is all about privilege.

These boys are surrounded by protections because of their families wealth, or because the school wants to keep them on the rugby team, she said. 

“They know they are in a position of privilege and have that safety from the prestige of the school and their parents.”

The boys who shared the photos were made prefects this year, Bailey said. 

 “I didn't become a teacher to contribute and work in an environment like this.”

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community. 

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