THE NUMBER of homeschooled children in Rotorua is at its highest since 1998, with homeschoolers citing bullying and lack of flexibility as two potential reasons for the rise.
New figures released by the Ministry of Education show 170 children were registered as being homeschooled in Rotorua in 2015, up from 129 the year before.
The jump of 41 children is the largest increase between years recorded since 1998.
Local mum Krissie Phipps has homeschooled her three sons Jeremy, 14, Zane, 12, and Anthony, 9, since they were 5.
"I have noticed an increase in the number of people choosing homeschooling but it's a bit hard to say because our social group is just one of many throughout the week.
"Some of the major reasons for choosing homeschooling are often bullying and for those that have been at mainstream schools, not seeing them progress in their learning."
She said there was still a stigma that homeschooled children were either "very religious or weirdos".
"That's not the case at all. In our social group there are families from every religion on the spectrum and when religion does come into play, it is often only one of many reasons parents decide to homeschool their children.
"The reality is it is a lot of work homeschooling so it is definitely not taking the easy path. When that's the case, why would we choose it unless we know it is going to be the best option for our children."
Another local mum, who did not wish to be named, had her two children in mainstream schooling until a year and a half ago.
Her children, Tayla, 12, and Ethan Foreman, 9, were in the mainstream schooling system for six and four years respectively. She said her children had changed dramatically since she pulled them out.
"I wanted them to be kids and act 12, not 18. I wanted them to be removed from the bad influences and after a year and a half the change has been huge.
"Tayla is sitting at a Year 9 level in some subjects she was not achieving in at school."
But the growing trend of homeschooling is not favoured by all, with one principal saying he was particularly concerned with the big jump last year.
Rotorua Principals' Association president and Ngakuru School principal Grant Henderson said in an ideal world every child would go to their local school and succeed.
"I do believe schools are evolving and are more accepting of diversity so we need to be having conversations with those families to understand what turned them to homeschooling - especially those who were in mainstream education and switched.
"That jump between 2014 and 2015 is a concern."
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said while it was important to respect a parent's choice to homeschool their child, it would be difficult to argue the quality of education they could provide at the senior end of a child's schooling was equivalent to mainstream.
"I would imagine it would be extremely difficult to homeschool a senior student in specialist subjects such as a language, physics or calculus. Mainstream schools offer specialist teachers and resources for those areas so I think it would be hard to argue the same quality of education would be provided at that level.
"I also think they do sometimes miss out on the socialisation that mainstream education provides."
Nationally, homeschooling figures have remained relatively steady, peaking around 6000 students between 2003 and 2005.
Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said there was a spike last year but she expected the numbers to even out.
"We had a significant number of parents with children already being homeschooled who also applied for schooling exemptions for siblings, but the numbers are now expected to even out.
"We recently reviewed our criteria for approval for homeschooling and the process is very rigorous.
"Applicants need to provide evidence that their child will be taught 'as least as regularly and as well as' they would be taught in a regular school."