Category Archives: Principal’s Office

Government gets an F for education

By Jim Turrell, published on Stuff.

OPINION: My verdict on the Government’s track record in education is that it is an epic fail.

The reasons for this verdict are many and varied, but I will focus on three main areas:

1. Our student achievement data is declining nationally
2. Ideology is overriding evidence
3. Trust has been completely eroded in the sector achievement data

The mad scientist and the frog
The mad scientist chopped off the frog’s legs and told it to jump. When the frog didn’t jump, the mad scientist concluded that the frog was deaf.

This story illustrates how a relationship between two things (a correlation) does not mean that the one thing is the direct cause of the other. Correlation and causality are often, and sometimes deliberately, confused.

It typifies the approach our government continues to take towards a growing body of evidence that suggests their treasury driven education reforms are having a negative impact on student achievement and well being.

The evidence is compelling. The Ministry of Education’s own research highlights the inconsistencies in National Standards data both within and between schools. (It’s a rort!) The RAINS study by the University of Waikato provides an especially damning report on the impact of National Standards and NZ students’ scores on international surveys continue to decline.

In some cases, the rate of that decline is increasing.

Most teachers will articulate their concerns for a narrowing of the curriculum, where science and the arts play a diminishing role and “soft skills”, such as managing self, problem solving and being creative are all but irrelevant.

Ideology
The government’s response to this troubling data is to double down on “shonky” National Standards with “National Standards Plus”, new “Better Public Services Targets” for literacy and numeracy and a clear directive to the Education Review Office to narrow its focus to schools’ programmes that accelerate the progress of their “priority learners” against National Standards. In other words, further intensification of the very policies we know to be causing harm.

At the same time, per-pupil funding is reducing and new laws are passed without any additional resources for schools to implement them.

The government is now yelling, “jump” more loudly, while chopping more furiously.

Intervention programmes that are driven by high-stakes National Standards data inevitably focus disproportionate resources on the small group of students who are most likely to reach the standard with additional support.

However, this is often to the detriment of those who have already achieved the standard and those who are less likely to with those same levels of additional support. This system is not only incredibly unfair to many students; it also precipitates an overall decline in the achievement of the whole cohort over time.

“Teacher accountability” clearly resonates with voters, and so it should, but National Standards represent a deliberate oversimplification. Education is extraordinarily complex. The extent to which it has become politicised is doing our children an enormous disservice, while snappy sound bites unfairly shape public perceptions.

It is alarming how perception continues to hold sway over evidence. This paradigm is fuelled by politicians (of all persuasions) who appear to repeatedly use data out of context, deliberately confuse correlation with causality and oversimplify complex issues for political gain. As a result, trust within the education sector is almost entirely eroded. We are being increasingly polarised by flagrant politicisation of the things we all care about.

Trump …

Brexit …

It is now nearly impossible to distinguish between a concerned principal and a radicalised political activist.

Trust
It is difficult to reconcile our government’s stated aims, with their policy outcomes. Instead, they offer yet more snappy sound bites, like former education minister Parata’s “decile is not destiny”. It is difficult for voters to argue with such rhetoric. (Frogs need to jump!) Except that there is a growing number of policies, based on pure neoliberalism, which go a long way towards ensuring that decile does become destiny. (More legs chopped off.) The outcomes appear to be the very opposite of what is promised.

Accordingly, the issue of trust lingers in the following questions:

– What is the decile review really about?
– What are Communities of Learning really about?
– What is the funding review really about?
– What are charter schools really about?
– What were the changes to the Education Amendment Act really about?
– What are public, private partnerships really about?
– Why are wealthy charter school owners from overseas suddenly appearing on our boards of trustees?

My hope is that the future brings a better balance for our curriculum.

Currently, high-stakes assessment data is leading to “drill and kill” low stakes learning. Then we wonder why achievement levels are dropping. When the balance is restored so that learning is high stakes and the assessment low stakes, learners will thrive.

This requires all-important trust. Trust between the teaching professionals and the politicians and the wider public. We all need to leave our ideologies behind and work together towards goals that are based on quality research and evidence of what works – regardless of who forms our next government on September 23.

Jim Turrell is an experienced primary school principal who lives in Central Southland after emigrating from Wales.

Defamation in a Facebook Age

The actions of Steve Stephens, the Cleveland Killer who posted a Facebook photo of himself shooting a total stranger illustrates one of the many dangers of Facebook. The Financial Times of London (22nd April) said that the Cleveland Killer did more than commit a horrific crime. “He also highlighted the complete failure of big technology groups to take responsibility for their role in spreading illegal, hateful and false content around the world”.

Outside of Europe, laws are tighter. In New Zealand, both case law and legislation provides guidance for Facebook content and the responsibilities of moderators. If you post something, which is considered harmful, defamatory, or patently untrue, is racist or constitutes hate speech, then you commit an offence and the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, provides legal remedy for those defamed or affected.

Additionally, case law in New Zealand has established that moderators or admins of social media sites are deemed publishers are responsible for all site content, whether they know of its existence or not.

A defamatory statement is one which falsely discredits or exposes to ridicule, a person, organisation, business or school. The rules of defamation apply to comments posted online as much as they do to those on the traditional printed page.

A recent example of case law in New Zealand was Ian Wishart vs Christopher Murray and others in March 2013. Mr Wishart wrote a book about the Kahui twins murders. Mr Murray established a Facebook page urging people to boycott the book. Mr Wishart subsequently sued Mr Murray and others for comments made on Twitter and Facebook. Many of the comments posted were by anonymous users. Mr Wishart argued that Mr Murray as the site moderator and publisher is liable for the content postings. Mr Murray sought to have Mr Wishart’s claim struck out on the basis that he didn’t write the offending postings.

Justice Courtney declined, ruling that Mr Murray was the ‘publisher’ and concluded:

“Those who host Facebook pages or similar are not passive instruments or mere conduits of content posted on their Facebook page. They will be regarded as publishers of postings made by anonymous users in two circumstances. The first is if they know of the defamatory statement and fail to remove it within a reasonable time in circumstance that give rise to an inference that they are taking responsibility for it. A request by the person affected is not necessary. The second is where they do not know of the defamatory posting but ought, in the circumstances, to know that postings are being made that are likely to be defamatory”.

The moderators of the Matipo Primary Facebook page are required to follow the legal requirements established by case law and the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. No comment, which is considered harmful, defamatory, patently untrue, is racist or constitutes hate speech, will be approved.

The same defamation procedures apply to Facebook comments as to traditional written comments. Case law in various countries including New Zealand has established that the moderators of social media sites are deemed publishers and are responsible for all site content.

Our moderators have been made aware of the intent of the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 and the New Zealand decision of Justice Courtney in ‘Wishart vs Murray’. For anyone else interested, we can make available copies of both.

Special People, Special Place

By Wayne Bainbridge

Once upon a time there was a little sad school. It was sad because all the children have grown up and moved away. There were only 150 left. The school was sad too and ashamed that it was all run down. It hadn’t been painted for 12 years on the outside and 18 years on the inside. Some of the boards were rotting away. Principals kept coming then going away – none wanted to stay. Some people started to talk about closing the school and selling the land for new homes. The little sad school would cry itself to sleep each night and dream about the days when the school was full of children.

One day a new principal came. He told the sad little school to stop crying and stop being sad. He said he would work hard and try his best to make the school happy and strong again, and promised not to go away like the others. He was a young man with long hair. He was very keen on sport and loved teaching children. He had just returned from America and had turned down a job there at a small university, and also with the Ministry of Education in New Zealand. He took a lot of photos of the sad little school and went into town and banged on the door of the Ministry of Education.

He said the little school was sad and all the children had gone away. We need fixing he told them, so men came out and fixed the rotten boards and painted the school. The new principal spoke to lots of people and got a lot of things donated. Lots of art supplies and sports equipment arrived, lots of trees were planted. All the gorse was cut out from the bush and for two boxes of beer, the nature trail was made.

The little school started to smile as more new children came and the school started to feel proud of itself again. I think we need a hall said the new principal, and for $26,000 a new hall was built. We need more money he said, so he started to apply for grants and they got enough money to line the inside of the hall as well. Over the years, well over $1 million in grants were received.

More children came and then more classrooms came. The parents were very happy. The school enjoyed great success in sports and in choir festivals. Lots of famous visitors came to the school to speak to the children. The principal continued to apply for extra grants and extra opportunities. He appointed lots of well qualified young teachers. As the school’s reputation continued to grow, the principal was lucky enough to win a number of awards and travel grants, and went to a number of overseas conferences, mainly to listen to world experts, and a couple of times to speak.

Each time he came back, he told the children how proud he was of them. He told them of schools he had visited overseas, and how well the children compared. The children know this because when they went out on school trips, they saw how kids from other schools were not as well-mannered and as well behaved. The children would sing a song:

“School is really cool
It’s a lot of fun
Cos every day
We laugh and we play
School is number one!”

The reputation of the school grew and grew. The Education Review Office gave outstanding reports about the school. The Ministry of Education called the school an ‘overachiever’. The school didn’t know what that meant, but it was happy.

The principal started to get older and fatter. With his grey beard, some of the kids called him Santa. He just smiled. The children were happy, they were well behaved, did lots of extra things and he was so proud of them. Then the government from Wellington called up the principal. For six years, he got up early and flew to Wellington one day a month. He told everyone about the little school, the school that boxed above its weight. He also kept on learning all he could from experts in Wellington and around the world.

The little school was no longer little any more. It was also no longer sad. The buildings and grounds kept getting improved. The school academic results kept improving. The Education Review Office rated the school in the top 300 of all the schools in New Zealand. The Ministry of Education in November 2014 wrote a report about the schools in Te Atatu, and identified it as the top performing school.

The school was an early adopter of Information Technology and computers. It was a leader in Inquiry Learning, now used across the country. It has become an Asian Aware school, teaches Mandarin, has a strong performing arts stream and continues to provide opportunities for its children. It has to turn some new enrolments away and have a waiting list from parents hoping to have their child join the school.

The little, old sad school is now a big, happy school. It is a school full of special people, like the entire staff and special children who are mostly engaged, cooperative, well behaved and motivated. Surveys of the children say they feel happy and safe at school and that teachers try hard to push them to achieve more. Surveys of the parents say that most really like and support the school. A few say that they don’t like the principal. He sometimes feels sad about this, but works hard to run the best school possible for all children.

As the principal becomes older, greyer and fatter, he still has lots of ideas and plans for the future to continue to make further improvements in resources, learning, engagement and achievement. Some of the little kids still call him Santa and he smiles. He continues to employ smart, highly qualified young teachers with extra value added strengths to bring to the happy school.

The sad, little school is neither sad nor little any longer. The children still laugh and play.

“School is really cool
It’s a lot of fun
Cos every day
We laugh and we play
School is number one!”

The dangers of rumours and gossip and how the art of slow and being well informed can save the day

The dangers of rumours and gossip and how the art of slow and being well informed can save the day

By Gary Moore, Principal, Rutherford College
First published in the Rutherford College newsletter March 22, 2017

The purpose of this article is to reinforce the value of checking information/ gossip using the triple filter test as a process.

So much negativity can be avoided if firstly we verify the facts and whether the information is true, and then whether it is either good or useful before passing it on verbally or digitally. I also believe this includes taking the time to pause and reflect before liking something on Facebook. The desire for a speedy response can start a negative chain reaction.

What’s Important Now is for us to learn the art of slow, an ability to calm down and check things out properly before maybe wrongly assuming you have all the information. At Rutherford we don’t ‘assume’, we slow down and apply the triple filter test.

Please keep the philosophy of the triple filter test in mind the next time you either hear, or are about to repeat a rumour.

Socrates. (469 – 399BC) the great Greek philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students? “Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”
“Triple filter?” “That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”
No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and … ” “All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter ofGoodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”
“No, on the contrary…” “So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?”
Socrates continued. “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”
“No, not really…” “Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”

We can all develop this type of wisdom.

Twenty Bucks!

By Wayne Bainbridge

Over the holiday period I stumbled across many media reports on the huge costs of children starting school. I read of huge school donations suggested by schools; $500 for inner city schools, $1,000 at a Remuera school (per child). Even in West Auckland, $150-$200 per child is not uncommon. Then we read of uniform routs where a polo shirt with a school crest costs $45, but the same polo without the crest sells at $12.

Another reported cost is all sorts of ‘compulsory’ levies:
− $5 I.T. fee.
− $5 photocopying fee.
− $10 art fee.
− $10 classroom consumable fee.

These ‘fees’ are illegal, yet schools continue to charge them. School donations are not compulsory, they are voluntary. The compulsory levies are criminal.

It is very common these days for schools to have BYOD – bring your own digital device to school. Not only are parents responsible for the cost of the device, but also for insurance in the event of loss, theft or damage.

What makes me irritated is that schools seem to get away with it. The Ministry does nothing to enforce its own policies and seems to turn a blind eye to it. Later in the year, we hear of high schools refusing to let children to go to the school ball if they haven’t paid this school donation.

I am proud of the fact that at this school we have no compulsory levies. We have no uniform so there is no extra cost to parents. We don’t rip people off with stationery costs charging just $20. The amount of profit the school makes on stationery sales over the year is around $600. School donations are $70 per child or $100 per family. They are not compulsory and there is an incentive of a lucky prize draw – this year the prize is a Sharp Microwave and a second prize of a free car oil service.

I have talked about several emotions in this blog: anger, embarrassment of some of my colleagues and finally pride in the position of our school. Best wishes for a relatively free education this year. Twenty bucks is all it costs to start school at Matipo!

2015 Principal’s Sabbatical Report “Singapore Mathematics”

2015 Principal’s Sabbatical Report “Singapore Mathematics”
By Wayne Bainbridge

Singapore Maths is used by the top four consistent math nations in the world, as measured by TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) – Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. Since its development in the late eighties, and its revision in 1992, Singapore has surged to the top of the world maths achievement and also severely reduced its underachievement tail. It is used in a number of countries on a school by school basis and in the United States by private schools, charter schools and homeschoolers. In 2014, an Australian version was launched in Australia, titled Prime Maths and made available in New Zealand in 2015.

How does it differ?

  • Concepts are introduced at an earlier age and covered in depth till mastery.
  • Fewer topics are covered in greater depth.
  • It is marketed as a complete package with a teacher’s book, course book and practice book.
  • It is sequentially based on previous knowledge and mastery.
  • Teacher’s professional learning is embedded within the teacher’s book and course book, plus the Bar Model Method “Mathematical Problem Solving”.
  • Problem solving is central for teaching and learning.
  • It is a ‘cook book’ package which provides a consistent pedagogy which covers topics in depth leading to mastery.
  • The teacher’s guide includes comprehensive lesson plans with notes to support each page in the student books to show teachers how to effectively teach each lesson.
  • The concrete materials for manipulative learning are as simple as paper clips and ice block sticks.
  • Each chapter of the books has a review which provides summative assessment.

The New Zealand Scenario
The TIMSS Year 4 results between 1995 – 2011 show that while the results in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea all went up, Australia rose then plateaued, the New Zealand scores actually declined between 2003 and 2011.

singmaths1

Many New Zealand teachers became disillusioned by frequent changes to the Numeracy Project, rewriting of booklets and changes in testing. Many expressed the view that maths in New Zealand had been ‘dumbed down’. Mathematical concepts previously introduced in primary schools were delayed till intermediate or even secondary level, such as fractions, long multiplication, division and the use of algorithms.

Our approach has been described as a scattergun approach with the same topic spread out across different years, rather than being covered in depth to mastery. Scholastic, publishers of Prime Maths, believe Singapore introduces mathematical concepts from one to three years earlier than New Zealand and Australian schools.

singmaths2

New Zealand teachers feel unsupported in their maths learning and fall back on a variety of online resources which they need to search, download and incorporate into their planning which takes considerable time and effort. Because Singapore Maths is a complete package including professional knowledge, planning and summative review it is clearly advantageous. The publishers commissioned Lester Flockton to prepare a comparison between New Zealand curriculum objectives in relations to Prime (Singapore Maths) objectives to show how the latter fits into the New Zealand Maths Curriculum.

Underpinning Principles

The Primary Mathematics Teaching and Learning Syllabus: Singapore Ministry of Education 2012 clearly outlines the philosophical underpinning of Singapore Maths.

Principle 1

Teaching is for learning; learning is for understanding; understanding is for reasoning and applying and, ultimately problem solving.

Principle 2

Teaching should build on students’ knowledge; take cognisance of students’ interests and experiences; and engage them in active and reflective learning.

The Singapore Ministry of Education firmly believes teachers need support to deliver the curriculum and this is built into the course books used. The two underlying principles are expanded upon.

Teaching Principle 1: Problem Solving

“The learning of mathematics should focus on understanding, not just recall of facts or reproduction of procedures. Understanding is necessary for deep learning and mastery. Only with understanding can students be able to reason mathematically and apply mathematics to solve a range of problems. After all, problem solving is the focus of the mathematics curriculum.”

Principle 2:

“Mathematics is a hierarchical subject. Without understanding of pre-requisite knowledge, foundation will be weak and learning will be shallow. It is important for teachers to check on students’ understanding before introducing new concepts and skills.”

The teaching of problem solving is well illustrated by the following extract from Prime Course book 2 – after 3 years at school. Note the scaffolding:

Sample from PRIME Course book 2A, Chapter 2, Addition and Subtraction without Regrouping, Pg40
Sample from PRIME Course book 2A, Chapter 2, Addition and Subtraction without Regrouping, Pg40

Some factors which may contribute to the success of Singapore Maths in Singapore

    • Children don’t start school until they are seven, so may be ‘more ready’ for formal learning.
    • Teaching is a highly respected and well paid profession in Singapore.
    • Teachers are entitled to 100 hours of low cost or no cost professional development each year (but not necessarily release based).
    • All teachers are trained at the one site, the National institute of Education.
    • Singapore has performance pay.
    • Like many Asian countries, teachers and schools in Singapore are both highly respected and highly supported. With no social welfare systems, a parents ‘pension’ or post retirement living is somewhat dependent on the success of their child or children. Parents support their children’s education, after school tutoring is the norm, complaints are rare, any disciplinary issue is well supported by parents.
    • There is an expectation that children will do well and parents make sacrifices to ensure their child’s success.
    • Attendance at parent interviews is usually 100%.
    • ICT to support learning is provided.

In such a positively supportive environment, with a well-trained, well respected and well paid teacher workforce, the ‘complete package’ provided by Singapore Maths is perhaps more likely to be successful then it might be in countries like New Zealand and Australia which don’t have the advantages of strong societal support and respect for teachers and schools. Teachers speak with respect and pride of the support they get from their Minister and their Ministry. The present Prime Minister Hsien Loong Lee was formerly Education Minister (note; Singapore is virtually a one party state with high conformity to societal norms. Dissent is not normal).

What does a Singapore Maths lesson look like?

It looks remarkably like a New Zealand classroom lesson although classroom decorum and teacher interaction are a little more formal. In junior levels, a lot of use is made of concrete materials – plastic beads, paper clips, ice block sticks etc. There is an emphasis on children working together and children learning from each other. No doubt, some teachers may be textbook bound but those I saw ‘roved’ as in New Zealand classrooms working with individual groups while the other groups collaborated and problem solved together. Incidentally, class sizes are larger than in New Zealand with classes up to 40 students, the same size as I saw in Shanghai and Beijing.

Much is made about the reliance in Asian countries on textbooks. In the Singapore context, textbooks were used as an adjunct to the learning. The lesson started with a ‘Headworx’ type exercise of patterning, counting on, counting back and a reminder of yesterday’s lesson.

Three groups were operating but the teacher intends to move to four groups:

Group One worked on a follow up from yesterday’s lesson using the practice book.

Group Two worked on a game, then another follow up activity (but not book based).

Group Three worked with the teacher using the course book and were directed to tomorrow’s follow up activity from the practice book.

When I asked the teacher what was the most useful part of the approach and materials, she was a little perplexed because this was all she had known. However, when prompted she felt the consistent lay out of the books with a review section ‘Let’s Remember’ at the beginning of each

topic chapter; explicit learning intentions for each lesson; ‘Let’s Do’ which is a learning section done with the teacher followed by ‘Let’s Do’ practical application and then solving word problems. The consistency of each lesson based on the structure of the book have familiarity and confidence to the children. They could also use the language of instruction very well. The lesson was similar to a New Zealand style lesson and the textbook was used as part of the follow up range of activities.

Because of the haphazard nature of the New Zealand mathematics curriculum, the lack of coherent resources and in my opinion, poor pre-entry training leading to limited teacher mathematical knowledge, the structured ‘package’ approach provided by Singapore Maths with emphasis on in- built teacher knowledge, strongly suggest that this resource should be more closely evaluated by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, with a view to its introduction and implementation into New Zealand primary schools.

References

  1. Flockton, L. (n.d.). PRIME Mathematics and the New Zealand Curriculum. Retrieved from http://scholastic.co.nz/schools/teaching/pdfs/PRIME_Maths_in_the_NZ_context_Lester_Flockt on.pdf
  2. Lightfoot, L. (2009, July 2). Box clever: Singapore’s magic formulas for maths success. The Independent.
  3. PRIME Mathematics : Teacher Guide, Course Book, Practice Book. (2014). Singapore: Scholastic.
  4. Yoong Wong, K., & Hoe Lee, N. (2009). Singapore education and mathematics curriculum. Mathematics Education, The Singapore Journey world Scientific Publishing.
  5. Yueh Mei, L., & Vei Li, S. (2014) Mathematical Problem Solving – The Bar Model Method: A Professional Learning Workbook on the Key Problem Solving Strategy Used by Global Top Performer (Prime Professional Learning). Singapore: Scholastic.

Principals Delegation to China

A brief report on the Principals Delegation to China, September 2014
By Wayne Bainbridge

1. Reflections on China:
− Size.
− Scale.
− Wealth.
− Enormous Potential for New Zealand.
− That every child is a wanted child.
− Efficiency.
− Order and discipline.
− Protection of heritage.
− The apparent optimism of young people – western lifestyles, consumer drives etc.
− Internet dodgy on busy mornings.
− A country of extremes.
− Shanghai: City of Love.
− Families mean a lot.
− Highlights would be Tongli Water Village and the Great Wall of China, and on a personal interest note, the Shanghai Art Museum.

2. Reflections on Chinese Education:
− It is free!
− It is valued and supported.
− Parents respect school and teachers.
− The best schools are amazing and are at least a model for what is possible.
− Every parent attends parent interviews – it is the norm.
− Many schools honour their past with school museums.
− Schools are refurbished every 7 years.
− The principal is the absolute authority in the school.
− There is order and discipline.
− Class sizes are large – up to 40 but we heard of examples up to 70.
− In high schools, doing extra voluntary hours is normal.
− There is no MLE in China.
− Teaching is very formal. Children stand to say good morning and good bye. The teacher asks the child to stand to answer a question. Very rigid classrooms.
− The predominant pedagogy is that of oracy based on teacher input, a question, the child rephrasing the question, then answering it and then the teacher questioning for deeper understanding. Text books underpin the lesson used as a summary at the end.
− The best teachers demonstrated personality, passion, engagement and energy.

3. School Action Steps:
− Refine and strengthen Mandarin teaching within the school.
− Add after school class option.
− Begin Chinese cultural group – purchase uniforms and dragon lion costume.
− Search for a sister school.
− Develop Mandarin word charts for classrooms.

4. Acknowledgements:
Sincere thanks to Matipo Primary School Board of Trustees for supporting my visit and contributing to the airfare.
Absolute thanks to Confucius Institute, Haban and Fudan Universities for organising and funding the internal China programme.
Personal thanks to Janine Chin for the care and organization of the delegation and really going beyond reasonable expectation to ensure the success of the delegation.

Opening young eyes to darker side of online world

A useful article on online safety from the NZ Herald.

__________

The online chat starts when a man writes “heya” to 13-year-old Katie.

Questions like “where u from?” and “what sites do you use?” gradually progress to blushing emoticons, “lols” and flattery when a request for photos is granted.

More than 100 exchanges later, the tone darkens. “do u smoke”, the man asks. “ru a virgin”, “how far have u been wif boys” and, “touching where?”

The conversation was real but fortunately Katie isn’t. “She” was actually Brett Lee, who has worked as a senior detective in the Queensland police charged with combating online paedophilia.

For the last five years of his service Mr Lee, who’s in New Zealand speaking to schoolchildren about online safety, was a specialist in the field of undercover internet child exploitation investigations.

For thousands of hours the 49-year-old assumed fictitious identities of young people on the internet – and has spent more time being a teenager online than any real teenager.

His work meant numerous adults were arrested for trying to prey on children, mostly in Australia but also in joint operations with NZ police.

Each day Mr Lee’s online identities would be approached by dozens of potential offenders, and he would choose those he felt were most dangerous to talk with.

One used encryption software to hide his identity, but, like the rest, was traced and caught.

“The internet provided an environment they’d never had an opportunity to have before and they had access to thousands of children under what they thought was a cloak of invisibility,” Mr Lee said. “The screen is brilliant at giving a feeling of anonymity … that’s why a lot of people make choices online that they wouldn’t make in the real world.”

Mr Lee spoke to the Weekend Herald yesterday before talking to Year 7 and 8 pupils (11- and 12-year-olds) at Diocesan School for Girls on online safety and cyberbullying.

A false sense of anonymity and disconnect from real world sensibilities contributed to both problems, Mr Lee said, and realising that went a way to safeguarding children and teens.

“A young child sends a threatening email to another child. The only thing they’re going to imagine is the child reading it, not the hundreds of other scenarios that could cause their anonymity to be undone.”

Diocesan principal Heather McRae said the school wanted to take a lead on addressing cyber safety and bullying, as issues often became apparent at school before the home. “[Teenagers] are so vulnerable in the years that they are putting together their self-identity and who they are.

“And some of the more vulnerable ones do seek that external feedback, but of course the internet is such a random and unmonitored place … and it is an unmitigated disaster for students who are very sensitive.”

Mr Lee, who has also worked with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security Cyber Crimes Centre in the United States, said online safety had improved in many ways, and that six years ago the definition of cyberbullying was largely unknown.

He has four children aged between 10 and 19 and laughed when asked if they were allowed to be online.

“They are, whether I want them to be or not, they would be there. I appreciate that even with what I’ve seen, the internet is a very positive environment. It just reflects the real world.”

But there is also a greater need for vigilance. A survey revealed 73 per cent of Year 7s and 8s at Diocesan had their own smartphone. The school is private, but the tumbling price of such technology meant it was becoming more popular with young people from all backgrounds, Mr Lee said.

“Back in 2001 everyone in the family used the one computer, no kids had computers in their bedrooms. The technological factors are making the education more important now.”