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Alcohol at staff social events

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Last updated on 15 June 2018
School types: All · School phases: All
In-depth article
It’s for you to decide whether staff can drink alcohol at social events like Christmas parties. Read on for further advice to help you decide what to do and to see examples of how other schools approach this issue.

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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.

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

Headteachers in maintained schools should contact their local authority (LA) for further guidance on this matter.

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

The NAHT told us that schools can have alcohol at staff events if they wish.

However, both the NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) stressed 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 recommended:

  • Not having alcohol at social events that take place during the school day
  • Limiting any alcohol consumed at after-work social events to 1 glass of wine per person

Bear in mind that drunken behaviour by staff could bring the school into disrepute if witnessed by members of the local community.

NAHT advised 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?

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) views alcohol as "irregular expenditure not for the purpose intended". This is set out in paragraph 9.1.22 of the Academies Accounts Direction. Essentially, this means academies shouldn't use their funding to buy alcohol.

We asked ASCL and one of our associate education experts, Trevor Bailey, for further advice on this. Trevor was previously a secondary school headteacher.

They both said that using school funding to purchase alcohol may well be questioned.

Maintained schools should check whether their LA has a position on this issue. ASCL said that this should also be cleared with the governing board, and that you would need to be able to justify the decision.

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 if a voluntary fund or staff wellbeing budget was to be used for this, you should check that you can use the money for this purpose. For any money parents were involved in raising, you 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 specifies in its drug and alcohol policy that alcohol consumption is prohibited during the working day (page 3).

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.

You can download the policy from the following page. It's the document called 'Drug and alcohol policy'.

Medium-size voluntary aided primary school

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

You can download the drugs policy from the page below.

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.

You can download the staff code of conduct from the following page on the school website.


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

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