Senior Head's Blogs: Party Precautions

This week has been a big week of exams, with the IB students coming to the end of their intense period of exams, with the final papers being taken this Friday.  We have also seen the start of the written papers for GCSE and A Level, so most of those facing public exams have now at least got underway.  We wish every one of them success in their exams and encourage them to maintain their momentum through the extended exam period.

Once exams are over, people's thoughts often turn to celebration.  This can mean parties, and it is no exaggeration to say that parties have been one of the most difficult issues facing schools over recent years.  Incidents and issues that arise at parties often surface at school, and with social media and cameras on every phone, if something goes wrong, it is usually captured and shared with others without much thought of the consequences.  Of course, parties are not bad things - in fact, quite the opposite, it is very important to celebrate important moments in time, and a great opportunity to spend time with friends; but, as with most things, getting the preparation right is really important.  I hope that the following thoughts will be useful to those of you thinking about hosting parties in the coming weeks and over the summer!  

One of the hardest things to get right is alcohol.  When are children old enough to be given alcohol and how much should be provided?  First, if you are going to provide alcohol to someone else's child (under the age of 18) you need their permission to do so, even in a private home.  Inevitably you will be told that 'everybody else' is providing lots of drink at their parties, and therefore you have to as well.  Even if someone else is providing alcohol, you should not feel pressured to do so and there is no reason why a teenage party cannot be fun without having to have drink at it.  If you are going to provide alcohol, stick to lower alcohol drinks.  Spirits can be hugely problematic and should be avoided at all costs!  Make sure that there are plenty of soft drinks available, and that any alcohol is served by an adult, so that you can see if someone is not in a good state.  If the children are older, building in times when the 'bar' is only serving soft drinks can take pressure off to keep drinking.  Be wary of people arriving with drink (plastic drinks bottles can easily be used to bring vodka in, for example), or people who have drunk before arriving.  It is very helpful to greet everyone arriving in person, or to have someone who is there to check on arrival.

It is really important to have sufficient adults present and responsible for the number of people who are coming.  Imagine that something has gone wrong and that you have to sort it out, and think through how many adults it will take to resolve that issue, but also continue to supervise the party.  If you are concerned about people disappearing off from the party, it can help to limit access (for example - 'no one can go upstairs').  If you are supervising, you should be able to drive in case something does go wrong (or have someone who is ready to do so).  You should also actively supervise, not retreat to a room for the adults, but circulate and check that everyone is alright.  It is hugely helpful to have all the contact details of parents for those who are present.  Parents should also share any key medical details and arrangements for arrival and departure with you.  If you have people staying over, make sure that these arrangements are clear as well, and thought through, so that you are not trying to resolve issues late at night.

Please avoid term time wherever possible.  Even if it is a significant birthday, having one party might not seem too disruptive, but if you think about how many 18th birthdays we have each year, you can see how every week can quickly become a party week.  If you are holding an event that you want to invite boarders to attend, please give us lots of notice and understand that our response might have to be no.  We have full responsibility for boarders in our care, and even if their parents are happy for them to go to an event, we might not be confident that the arrangements are sufficient to ensure safety, and have to refuse permission.  This is much better done a couple of weeks in advance, rather than on the afternoon of the event.  If you are holding a party, it is really helpful to us if you can share the guest list with us in advance.  We would also want to work with you to make sure that the planning helps to make the event a success.

I have not yet mentioned drugs, but the reality is that drugs are more available in society now than at any other time previously, and the two occasions when young people are most likely to try drugs for the first time are at parties or music festivals.  Have honest conversations with your children about the risks and try to work through how they might respond to a situation where they are offered an illegal substance.  If you are holding a party, and come across something, it is also much easier to deal with if you have agreed in advance what approach you will take.  If you are holding a party and there are drugs on site, under the law, you are responsible for that, so it is important that those coming to your house are clear that you will not turn a blind eye, and again, having a clear guest list can help to ensure that someone's 'friend' doesn't turn up and cause you problems here.

The last thing to consider is that a huge proportion of the incidents reported to the website Everyone's Invited occurred at parties, ranging from inappropriate behaviour, through sexual assault up to rape.  These are utterly life changing things to happen.  Our judgement goes if we are drinking.  If you are hosting, you have a responsibility to those at the party to help them to enjoy their evening without getting it wrong.  If you are sending your child to a party, you have a responsibility to talk to them about these situations, and how to ensure that they do not get it wrong.  The vast majority do not, but when it does go wrong, it can be absolutely shattering, and don't, as a parent, leave it until after it has gone wrong to have that difficult conversation.

Prepare, plan and work with us if you are planning a party.  Most events go really well, and parents are even surprised at how well behaved the guests are, how helpful in clearing up, and how polite they can be, but it is far better to prepare for the worst case scenario, and be pleasantly surprised than to fail to plan, and end up picking up some very broken pieces at the end of the night.

Chris Townsend,
Head, Felsted School