Women have finally overtaken men in numbers as principals of New Zealand schools, but in Rotorua the scales have not quite tipped.

The latest data shows 1222 women and 1139 men were principals of state or integrated schools in 2017 - a reversal from 2015 when there were 1207 male and 1173 female principals.

Meanwhile, in the Rotorua district there are 22 male principals and 21 females, according to the Education Counts data.

Otonga Road School principal Linda Woon remembers when she was one of only two female principals in the region back in 1991.

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"It was a pretty tough time to be a female," Woon said.

"I had a comment made to me at a principals' meeting that I needed to learn my place ... that was a perfectly acceptable comment to make. Times have changed significantly and they needed to."

Woon said she was never interested in running a school initially.

"It wasn't until someone higher said to me that all the things I wanted to change, you can't change from a classroom. The thing that pushed me was the vision I had for the curriculum and education."

Lynmore Primary School principal Lorraine Taylor welcomed the news.

"It is extremely important that schools have excellent leaders of learning whatever gender they may be," she said.

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"However, given there has always been more women teaching in primary schools than men the numbers of women teachers who have been promoted to the principal's position as opposed to men has been disappointing in the past.

"Often schools would only have one male teacher and that was the principal. It's good to see the playing field levelling out more and that highly skilled female educators see themselves in leadership positions."

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said making principalship a gender war was inappropriate and divisive.

"It should always be about appointing the best person to lead a school irrespective of gender," he said.

"We now have a number of women who lead boys secondary schools, which is fantastic, but we would expect them to provide outstanding leadership to boys. Likewise it should not be a problem if a man was the best applicant for a girls' school."

Walsh said the schools should have both gender and ethnic balance as diversity brought strength to students' learning experiences.

Females dominated the teaching profession as early as 1971 when they made up 62 per cent of New Zealand primary teachers, although they were then only 41 per cent of secondary teachers.

By 2004, those numbers were 82 per cent in primary schools and 57 per cent in secondary schools.

The proportions have been relatively stable since then, with women rising to 84 per cent at primary and 60 per cent at secondary level.

Despite this long history, most primary and intermediate school principals until 2012 were men, and most secondary principals are still men. Last year 55 per cent of primary, and only 33 per cent of secondary, principals were women.

In Rotorua there are 234 male teaching staff and 730 female teaching staff. The numbers included principals, teachers, management, resource teachers, guidance councellors and therapists.

At Rotorua's five high schools there is only one female principal - at Rotorua Girls' High - and the principals of the three intermediate-only schools are all male.

However, men are missing from other management roles such as deputy or assistant principals with seven males in management in the Rotorua District, and 30 females.

Rotokawa School principal Briar Stewart said the news was "heartening".

"Women teachers didn't get equal pay with men until 1972. Women in education have a very positive influence on the quality of NZ education," Stewart said.

"I don't agree that children's learning success is limited by the number of women teachers. Our whole community own that issue, not schools or teachers alone."

She said the question needed to be asked, what attracted people to a profession as men were not currently being attracted to teaching.