Principals' reports of adults' alcohol use in Australian secondary schools

April 2016
Ward, B., Kippen, R., Buykx, P., Munro, G., McBride, N. and Wiggers, J. (2016). Principals' reports of adults' alcohol use in Australian secondary schools. BMC Public Health, 16, pp. 195.

Schools provide opportunities for parents and the wider community to connect and support the physical and emotional wellbeing of their children. Schools therefore have the potential to play a role in the socialisation of alcohol use through school policies and practices regarding consumption of alcohol by adults at school events in the presence of children.

This survey was undertaken to a) compare the extent to which alcohol is used at secondary school events, when children are present, in the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (VIC), Australia; b) describe principals’ level of agreement with these practices; c) their awareness of state policies on this issue; and d) the predictors of such events. A random sample of secondary schools, stratified to represent metropolitan and non-metropolitan schools were invited to participate. Bivariate and multivariate analysis were conducted with p values < 0.05 considered significant.

A total of 241 (43 %) schools consented to participate in the study. Fifteen percent of participating NSW schools and 57 % of VIC schools held at least one event in which alcohol was consumed by adults in the presence of children in the year before the survey. Of the 100 reported events, 78 % were Year 12 graduation dinners, and 18 % were debutante balls. Compared to NSW principals, VIC principals were significantly more likely to agree with the use of alcohol at these events; significantly less likely to be aware of their state education department policy on this issue; have a policy at their own school or support policy that prohibits alcohol use at such events; and less likely to report having enough information to make decisions about this.

There is a growing focus on adults’ use of alcohol at school events when children are present. Schools can play an important role in educating and socialising children about alcohol via both the curriculum and policies regarding adults’ alcohol use at school events. Findings from this study suggest education department and school-based policies that prohibit or restrict the use of alcohol, are significant predictors of adults’ alcohol use at school events when children are present.