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Alcohol at staff social events

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Last updated on 4 December 2017
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
Is there guidance on staff drinking alcohol at Christmas lunches? The DfE says this decision is down to schools. We look at schools’ duty of care to staff and whether school funds can be spent on this, relaying advice from 2 unions and an associate expert. We point to school policies covering this.

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  1. 1 Headteachers must determine what is appropriate
  2. 2 Schools have a duty of care to employees
  3. 3 School funds: can they be used to buy alcohol?
  4. 4 Examples of school policies

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Headteachers must determine what is appropriate

The Department for Education (DfE) does not provide specific guidance on whether staff can drink alcohol during Christmas lunches and then return to work, a representative explained to us.

She said that the decision on whether to allow alcohol will be at the discretion of each headteacher and governing board, and that they must decide what is appropriate in the circumstances.

She also advised that headteachers in maintained schools should contact their local authority (LA) for further guidance on this topic.

Schools have a duty of care to employees

Schools may be liable for any accidents or incidents that occur as a result of staff consuming alcohol

An adviser from the NAHT told us that schools can have alcohol at staff events if they wish.

However, he and a representative from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) emphasised that schools have a duty of care to employees, and that schools may be liable for any accidents or incidents that occur as a result of staff consuming alcohol. This is the case regardless of whether social events take place on or off the school premises.

For this reason, ASCL advised against alcohol being consumed at social events that take place during the school day, and recommended limiting any alcohol consumed at after-work social events to 1 glass of wine per person.

The representative added that drunken behaviour by staff could bring the school into disrepute if witnessed by members of the local community. 

The NAHT adviser recommended reminding staff in good time before the event that they are expected to conduct themselves appropriately and in line with the staff code of conduct.

School funds: can they be used to buy alcohol?

We asked ASCL and one of our associate education experts, Trevor Bailey, whether schools can use school funds to buy alcohol for a staff social event. Trevor was previously a secondary school headteacher.

ASCL and Trevor said that while there is nothing legally stopping schools doing this, using school funding to purchase alcohol may well be questioned.

Maintained schools should check whether their LA has a position on this issue, and academies should refer to their funding agreements. 

The ASCL representative said that this should also be cleared with the governing board, and that schools would need to be able to justify the decision.

He added that if there was any issue with staff as a result of alcohol consumption, and the school had provided the alcohol, the school is more likely to be held liable for it. 

Trevor said that, in his view, using part of a staff wellbeing budget to buy a glass of beer or wine is a reasonable "treat", as part of managing staff morale and thanking staff. However, if a voluntary fund or wellbeing budget was to be used for this, schools should check that they can use the money for this purpose. For any money parents were involved in raising, schools should also ensure parents wouldn't object.

Another of our articles looks at using school funds to buy gifts for staff.

Examples of school policies

Medium-size community primary

Onslow Infant School in Surrey says on page 3 of its drug and alcohol policy that alcohol consumption is prohibited during the working day.

It adds:

The headteacher must be consulted and permission obtained before arranging any functions at the school at which alcohol may be consumed. This decision is left to the careful discretion of the headteacher for each event.

Medium-size voluntary aided primary school

St Mary and St Pancras Church of England (CofE) Primary School in Camden says on page 5 of its drugs policy that there are occasions when alcohol is authorised at school. These could be parent events and staff social events.

Large secondary academy

Cannock Chase High School in Staffordshire covers alcohol in its staff code of conduct. It says that staff are not to consume or be under the influence of alcohol while on duty or on school premises. 

Alcohol may be consumed responsibly on the school premises when the headteacher has given express permission, such as during an evening or weekend social function or a celebration event.


Trevor Bailey has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years.

This article was updated in response to a question from the headteacher of a large secondary school in the east Midlands. 

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