A rising number of Bay families are turning to home schooling with applications from parents wanting to teach their children at home more than doubling since before the pandemic.
In January the Bay of Plenty Times reported that home-learning success in lockdown, concerns for immunocompromised children and the Government's pandemic response contributed to the "swell" in numbers late last year.
Ministry of Education figures show in 2019 there were 158 applications for exemptions from enrolment at a registered school in the Bay of Plenty-Waiariki region - with 145 approved.
In 2020, there were 209 applications and 194 were approved.
Last year there were 385 applications received and 358 approved.
This year is on track to rise again with 235 applications received and 179 approved as of April 30.
Nationwide the ministry had received 2328 exemption applications as of April 30, with 1500 of these approved.
Home education adviser Cynthia Hancox works with parents nationwide to support them through the home school application process.
Hancox, who is also the co-government liaison for the National Council of Home Educators New Zealand, said the data was not surprising.
While applications had dropped since late last year, Hancox thought there would continue to be more families shifting to home schooling compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
The reasons varied, but she said the Government's pandemic response gave some the "push they needed" to transition.
The ministry's application processing time was still "quite behind" in some regions and taking up to six months in some instances, she said.
This was "enormously frustrating and stressful" for families keen to start home schooling.
"To be left in limbo for such a long period of time is hugely stressful."
She said most families she had spoken to who recently made the shift to home schooling appeared committed to the journey.
"The contact we have had with families indicates that only a very small percentage think they may send their kids back to school once the pandemic situation is over."
Ministry of Education operations and integration hautū Sean Teddy said there had been a decline in the number of home education applications since November's peak and wait times were reducing.
"The local Bay of Plenty office is working with applicants in the region to process their applications as swiftly as possible and to manage any delays."
Children aged between 6 and 16 are legally required to be enrolled and attend a registered school while the application is being processed.
Once granted, parents are legally responsible for providing, supervising and monitoring their child's learning.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association president Suzanne Billington said they had seen increasing numbers of families moving to home school since the end of last year.
Billington, who is the principal at Tauriko School, said the reasoning behind this decision was different for every family but many were anxious about the safety of their children at school while Covid spread.
She said mask rules resulted in some parents feeling as though school was not as safe and others did not philosophically agree with the vaccine mandates.
"Those numbers are really around parent anxiety around the safety of their children at school with Covid."
Billington urged anxious parents to discuss possible options with school staff before making the switch to home schooling. Many schools in the Western Bay of Plenty were supportive of online learning, she said.
"Talk to us and we can support you with online learning - then you can transition back to school. Quite a few schools are providing online learning for concerned parents."
Cheryl Lescheid has been home schooling her three children since 2010, with one shifting to Rotorua Lakes High School last year.
The Canadian qualified teacher, who has been living in New Zealand for four years, works to support prospective home schoolers to prepare Ministry of Education applications.
She said the figures showed an "explosion of growth" in the number of Bay families home schooling in the past two years. There had also been a gradual increase in these numbers pre-pandemic which "dispelled some of biases" around home schooling.
Lescheid said people were "a lot less surprised" when she told them she home schooled her children nowadays than when she began in 2010.
"People would say 'oh you home school, can your children do their timetables?'. And they would quiz your children.
"More and more people have been exposed to somebody who is home schooling - instead of having some kind of weird stereotype in their head."
Many families were able to get a taste for home schooling during lockdowns which played a role in the growing numbers, she said.
"They had an opportunity to try it and it opened a new door for them."
The mum said she had a "foot in both worlds" with her oldest daughter moving to mainstream school at age 16 in term two last year.
"I would never say one is better than the other. They are different - and you have to know your child and what is best for your child."
It was the best choice for her daughter because she could receive specialised support in art subjects and increase independence before university.