Friday, 5 August 2016

School pincipals face alcohol dilemma

School principals need support to manage tensions over whether to make alcohol available at events where children are present.
School principals are torn between their duty of care to students and a strong culture of alcohol consumption at social gatherings when deciding whether to allow alcohol at school events where children are present a new study has revealed.

Lead researcher, Dr Bernadette Ward of Monash Rural Health, said the study of 14 Victorian schools (half in Melbourne, half in rural/regional Victorian) showed it was a serious challenge for principals to operationalise their role in contributing to changing the alcohol culture in the Australian community.

“One of the principals reported receiving death threats from a parent over the school’s policy to run a dry deb ball,” said Dr Ward. “The situation became so ugly, the school stopped running deb balls.”

In Victoria, the Department of Education and Training has guidelines, but ultimately the decision whether to serve alcohol at school events rests with the principal or school council and it is not only parents who make it difficult.

“Several principals reported concerns expressed by staff about changes to alcohol policies,” said Dr Ward. “In one school some staff insisted that banning alcohol was denying them a basic human right.”

The dilemma schools face is that allowing alcohol consumption at school events was seen to reinforce the perception that alcohol is a “usual” or “necessary” component of any gathering of adults.

In its June response to the new child safety Victorian code of conduct [The Age 15 June], the Australian Education Union raised concerns that banning alcohol will result in parents no longer being willing to volunteer at school events.

“One of the principals agreed that alcohol can be consumed in a responsible way, but asked if that means you have to serve it at all?” said Dr Ward.

The researchers suggest that, in the face of strong social pressure, strategies need to be identified to give principals support in making decisions about whether to allow alcohol at school events where children are present.

The research was conducted for the Alcohol and Drug Foundation and funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The paper is publicly available at BMJ Open.

For more information contact Dr Bernadette Ward: T (03) 5440 9064,  M: 0427 059 205

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