File photo

Oh, the school dance, that rite of passage signalling a conclusion to 12 or more years of basic education, and the threshold to adulthood.

It is a memorable page for most in life's photo album, an event relished by many and loathed by some who, for a myriad reasons, had disastrous evenings, or anti-climaxes that did not live up to the excitement around it.

School dances seem to have become more elaborate over the years, from outfits to hall decor and entertainment. After-parties are now so much more of a factor, too.

It is understandable, then, that some schools in KwaZulu-Natal are devastated by the recent September-November Education Department ban on their dances. Many had their events starting in June, but some were still preparing for them.

The department's reason is simple and solid: minimise the distractions, allow matric pupils to focus on their examinations.

Who can argue that a fleeting milepost of finery and fun pales in comparison to the main purpose of schooling?

But it does not have to be one or the other. The official circular of three weeks ago should have been sent in January. It would have been entirely acceptable had it been about next year's dances.

The department's aim was to avoid diversion. For many matrics whose events are threatened, or have been cancelled, its timing has done the opposite.

What we have instead is tension, with the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) declaring the ban unlawful, and at least one school announcing it would go on regardless. This, in turn, has drawn warnings of departmental consequences.

This was unnecessary. The department and its timing are at fault here. It should rescind the instruction and calm things. In doing so, it should also put all on notice that this will be the rule next year: no schools dances after August.