A noticeable rise in the number of children being homeschooled, including in the Whanganui region, has been recorded since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.
All children in Aotearoa aged between 6 and 16 years are required to be enrolled in and attend a registered school unless their parents or caregivers have successfully applied for an exemption for home education.
According to Ministry of Education (MOE) figures, there was an overall national net increase of 557 students being educated at home. Whanganui has had around 150 families registered for home education for the past few years.
Early in 2022, the Ministry had received 124 applications to home educate children in the Whanganui, Manawatū and Taranaki rohe. There were 50 in January and 74 in February. As of February 28, 39 of those applications had been approved.
Sean Teddy, MOE leader of operations and integration, said any parents or legal guardians of children who attended a compulsory school or kura in New Zealand may apply to the Ministry for a Certificate of Exemption from enrolment for the purposes of home education.
"Not all applications are successful," Teddy said.
"To gain approval, applicants must satisfy the Ministry that children will be taught at least as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school. If a child has learning support needs, the application must show that those needs will be met.
"Some recent applications haven't provided sufficient evidence on how families will educate their child as regularly or as well as at school."
Marice Hill has been homeschooling her children in Whanganui for almost 30 years and is working with her youngest child to complete his NCEA requirements.
She has previously been the co-ordinator for the local association.
"I have homeschooled all five of my children and I have noticed some quite significant changes since the early 1990s," Hill said.
"There is a mix of ideologies amongst families in the homeschool communities now. I am not as involved as I used to be but I did see a wider range of people from different backgrounds join the homeschooling community and I understand that since Covid has been around more families have decided to homeschool as well."
Hill said the concept of homeschooling always appealed to her and she was happy to see her adult children were confident, adventurous people who had all transitioned well to tertiary education and international travel.
"People make some unfounded assumptions about homeschooling. The most common ones are that children will lack social confidence and won't mix well with their peers. My experience is that homeschooled children are very socially confident with everyone - including their own age group," Hill said.
"There is also the assumption that parents need to be highly intelligent to homeschool their children but that's not true. I am not unintelligent but I left school at 16 and haven't completed any tertiary study."
Maddie Stanley is a recent convert to homeschooling and is waiting to hear if an application to homeschool her 6-year-old has been successful.
Covid-19 restrictions had played a part in her decision, she said.
"I have always liked the idea of homeschooling but when my daughter turned 5, everything was pushing her on a trajectory towards going to school and she wanted to go. Her friends from kindergarten were going and she was really excited but she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the experience," Stanley said.
"When the school had to close due to the Covid-19 response, we had a lot of learning experiences as a family and she seemed a lot happier to be learning at home. I enjoyed the experience as well. I know that Whanganui schools are really good but I believe that homeschooling is the right option for some children and I think it's the right one for us."
Stanley, who also has a 3-year-old at home, said things would be quite financially challenging for the family living on her husband's wage but she believed the homeschooling option was well worth exploring.
According to MOE statistics, European/Pākehā students are more likely to be homeschooled than any other ethnic group with 69.4 per cent of all homeschoolers identifying as that group compared to 46.6 per cent of the total school population.
Only 12.9 per cent of homeschoolers identify as Māori compared to 24.8 per cent of the total school population, 2.8 per cent of homeschoolers identify as Pacific compared to 9.8 per cent of the total school population, and 2.9 per cent of homeschoolers identify as Asian compared to 14.6 per cent of the total school population. The ethnicity of 1.1 per cent of homeschoolers is unknown.
There are around 780,000 children and young people enrolled in New Zealand schools and kura. The current number of students who are home educated is 9439, making up around 1.2 per cent of the total number.