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Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has imposed a matric dance ban on schools from this month until November in an attempt to improve last year’s poor matric results.

A circular was sent to schools in the last week of last month, instructing schools to cancel matric dance celebrations until after the exams in November to allow teachers and pupils to prepare sufficiently for mock and final exams.

But the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools says the instruction is unlawful and has instructed schools to go ahead with their matric dance ceremonies.

At least one school in Ladysmith has vowed to ignore the request and march on with their matric dance plans during the period in question.

But one Pinetown school has scrapped the matric dance entirely to allow pupils to focus on exams.

In a circular titled “suspension of matric dance ceremonies” and signed by the acting head of department, advocate Bheki Masuku, he instructs school governing bodies to suspend matric dance ceremonies for the period, September 1 to November 30.

“In ensuring that there is maximum use of the remaining days towards the writing of examinations, a decision has been taken to suspend all matric dance ceremonies/celebrations with effect from 1 September 2016,” the head of department said.

Typically, many schools host their matric dance ceremonies in the first two terms of the year, but for various reasons – such as availability of venues – some schools leave it to the latter stages of the year.

But despite most education stakeholders agreeing with the stance of the department, they believe the circular has come too late for schools who may have already secured bookings for venues, and hotels where matric balls routinely take place.

One such school which will defy the department’s instruction is Ladysmith High School.

School principal, Christo Pietersen, said the matric dance would take place on September 30, the last day of the third term.

He said it was too late for the school to cancel plans with the service providers and said it would be unfair on pupils who had already made arrangements for their suits, dresses, hair and other items.

“I can see the point of view of the department, but the timing is too late. We have booked and gone to a specific venue for a specific date.

“Those bookings have been done much earlier, we cannot change it now,” he said.

Pietersen said the matric dance was a compulsory event for the school’s 169 Grade 12 pupils and teachers.

Ray Naidoo, headmaster at Pinetown Boys’ High School, said the matric dance had been cancelled after the circular was sent.

“We were planning to have it at the school at the end of September, but now there is no time. We are now focusing on the exams, revision programme during the holidays. It’s not a priority for the boys,” he said.

“It’s sad for the boys, because a lot of them look forward to the matric dance.”

Asked about the timing of the circular, he said: “Better late than never. We realised it is going to be a bit difficult, because you want them to focus on the exams right now. The trial exams will be written until the end of the term, so it is about priorities,” he said.

Department spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, said schools should re-schedule their bookings and said there would be consequences for schools that ignored the circular.

“All school excursions are authorised by the department. We have withdrawn all these excursions. We have withdrawn all permissions for these to take place.

“The schools that go ahead will be breaking the circular. It’s a co-operative decision and there will be consequences.

“They can say what they say, but these are our schools, we have directed them to suspend until we finish exams. At the end of the day, the principal is our employee,” he said.

Paul Colditz, head of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, said the circular was unlawful.

“That is something the province can’t decide on behalf of the schools, it is unlawful. They don’t have any authority to make that decision. The department is not responsible for the social projects of schools.

“Our messages to schools have been to be responsible and carry on with their plans. It is an unlawful instruction by the department,” he said.

Erica Hayes-Hill, Durban Girls’ High School headmistress and the head of the KwaZulu-Natal Principal’s Association, said her school always held their matric dance before May.

“We never leave it until the end of the year because girls spend so much time talking about it. We usually just want to get it over and dusted,” she said.

Hayes-Hill said the circular, although well intended, came late. “It’s a reasonable request, but it has been done very late,” she said.