Employee conduct - alcohol consumption

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Q: I’m a Headteacher of an academy and I’ve received a letter that’s been sent to all schools from the LA Head of Safety. The letter follows a National College for Teaching & Leadership (NCTL) Professional Conduct panel judgment about a teacher’s alcohol consumption. The panel’s conclusions included the following: “If a teacher consumes alcohol whilst responsible for pupils in his/her care, the impaired judgment poses a risk to pupils’ safety and is therefore in breach of Teachers’ Standards.”

The LA’s letter also says that any consumption of alcohol is likely to be seen as inappropriate given that the member of staff is responsible to provide effective supervision in the event of a critical incident/emergency that, by definition, could occur at any point in time.

Our staff code of conduct states: “On school trips, residential activities and social situations where staff are designated as being on duty, they should not consume alcohol and in social situations, including those where staff are there as guests (e.g. leavers’ balls), staff should ensure that their conduct is professional at all times.” Do I need to amend this?

A: Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers are responsible for health and safety. Employees also have a duty to look after their own and others’ health and safety.

Employers and school staff also have a common law duty to provide care for pupils in the same way that a prudent parent would.

Where the local authority is the employer, it may give direction relating to the health and safety of persons, including pupils, on the school’s premises or taking part in any school activities elsewhere.

Maintained schools must follow the instruction in this letter. Governing bodies should comply with health and safety requirements set out by their LAs.

For MATs and academies, it is ultimately the trust and governors who determine the health and safety directions, although many take advice on educational visits through a service level agreement (SLA) with an LA.

It’s difficult to envisage a situation on a visit where a member of staff may not be on duty and, equally, a critical incident could occur at any time when staff are with students. The academy should therefore carefully review its policies.

Health and safety guidance issued by the DfE is available here.

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