Answer to a question from a reader

Can a child be denied attending their matric dance due to non-payment of school fees?

The short answer

No. Legally, the principal does not have the power to block access to the matric farewell because of outstanding school fees.

The long answer

No, a principal cannot deny matric pupils access to their matric farewell because of unpaid school fees. The Western Cape government said that “Public schools are not allowed to refuse admission, suspend pupils from classes, deny them access to cultural, sporting or social activities, or refuse to issue school reports if parents are unable to or fail to pay school fees. (They are, however, allowed to request that parents come to school and collect the reports in person.)”

The law that applies to schools is the Schools Act. Section 41(7) of the Schools Act says that learners may not be deprived of their right to participate in the programme of a public school because of non-payment of school fees by a parent.

In their GroundUp article on 15 November 2022, Asreeq Ferreira and Anathi Canham of the NGO Equal Education said that the Schools Act asserts that a learner may not be victimised in any manner, including suspension from classes; verbal and non-verbal abuse; denial of access to cultural, sporting, or social activities of the school; or denial of a school report or transfer certificate, due to non-payment of school fees.

It seems that the schools who threatened to block matric students from their matric farewells in 2022 were not familiar with the law as regards denial of access to cultural, sporting or social activities of the school, and sadly that this has not changed in 2024. But the law is the law, and the principal does not have the power to block access to the matric farewell because of outstanding school fees. 

The GroundUp article quotes the court in the case of Centre for Child Law, the School Governing Body of Phakamisa High School & 37 Children v the Minister of Basic Education & 4 Others, saying that children have their own right to dignity, which is not dependent on or assessed in the light of their parents. The court went on to say that when children were not allowed to participate meaningfully in the societies of which they were a part, they were denuded of their self-esteem and self-worth.

If the school principal continues to threaten to illegally block matric students from attending their farewell, you could ask the Equal Education Law Centre for help and advice. These are their contact details: 

Cape Town

  • 3rd Floor, Isivivana Centre, 8 Mzala Street, Khayelitsha, 7784

  • Postnet Suite #147 Private Bag X15 Somerset West 7129

  • +27 21 461 1421 / 0800 110 752 (Tollfree)


In Gauteng, these are the contact details for Equal Education:

Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 15, 2024, 1:59 p.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.