Rotorua principals have had mixed reactions to the news that students may be able to ditch the classroom in favour of online learning.

Under new legislation, any school-age student would be able to enrol in a "community of online learning" (COOL), with the education provider deciding if students need to attend school for a full or partial day.

Regulations would be set to measure attendance in an online learning environment.

The move has been called the biggest update of New Zealand education in 30 years by Education Minister Hekia Parata.


Rotorua Principals Association president and Ngakuru School principal Grant Henderson said he could not see any advantages of the programme for parents.

"Many children come from homes where both the parents work so I don't know how it would work if the children are at home all day.

"One of the great things about school is how it brings children together and helps them develop characteristics and essential skills needed to be a part of a community.

"My biggest concern is the isolation of children it could cause and the lack of relationship building with teachers."

Otonga Rd Primary School principal Linda Woon said the concept had potential, as long as all the child's needs were catered for.

"It has certainly caused some interest - I've even had parents asking about it.

"There are times it would be very good, such as when students are wanting to learn a specialist subject, but there would need to be clear guidelines around it to ensure the social and emotional needs of the student are also considered.

"It may suit some but I would not suggest it should be wholesale."

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said he was not sure there was a huge demand for it.

"To my knowledge it was not consulted with education leaders. The majority of schools are on board with e-learning so I am not convinced there is a huge need.

"Children and teenagers learn best in social situations. They learn how to meet deadlines, work in groups, work to timetables and resolve conflicts - all skills they need in life. Removing students from a school setting puts them at risk of missing out on those social factors."

Not all in the education sector had concerns about the initiative.

Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust general manager Roana Bennett said many of the arguments against it were ill-informed.

"We fully support initiatives that increase access to education for rangatahi (young people) - including online learning," said Ms Bennett.

"We know traditional classroom settings don't always fit the learning needs of some students. Despite a slight improvement in recent years, overall Maori learners continue to lag behind other ethnicities in terms of education achievement. The Education (Update) Amendment Bill promises to deliver some of that change," she said.

"For some learners online learning is a viable and effective alternative to a classroom setting."