One of New Zealand's biggest schools, Macleans College, has cancelled its Year 13 graduation dinner after at least 100 students drank alcohol at parties on the morning of their last day at school.

Principal Steve Hargreaves said it was the first time the annual dinner had been cancelled since it started in 1998.

A student said police were called to one of the parties before school on Wednesday November 6 where about 30 or 40 students were drinking alcohol in their school uniforms.

She said about 20 students attended another party where alcohol was also consumed on that day, but the decision to cancel the graduation dinner affected all 450 Year 13 students, most of whom did not attend the parties.

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A photo circulating on social media shows more than a dozen students in school uniform drinking alcohol and making rude gestures at the camera.

In an email to parents today, Hargreaves said he had been made aware of a "large number" of end-of-year parties, which had happened on the morning of November 6 and on the last day of Term 3.

"Alcohol was served at these parties. Disappointingly, with parental oversight in some cases," he wrote.

"The school cannot accept nor condone the attendance of students at parties such as these before school or in uniform.

"The practical sanctions available to the school at this time of year are limited, however, we must respond to this disappointing breach of trust in a manner that makes it clear to our student community that it is unacceptable to host or attend parties before school where alcohol is being consumed."

He told parents the school had "lost trust" that students would be attending the graduation dinner without having drunk alcohol, and said for that reason he had cancelled the dinner, due to take place at the Ellerslie Racecourse on November 28.

Many students who hadn't gone to the parties would also be affected, he wrote. But if every student who had attended was banned from the dinner it would effectively "leave us with a function that is no longer a celebration of our students' final year at Macleans."

Hargreaves offered all students a full refund for the $85 dinner.

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The student said "everyone was really upset" by the decision.

"A lot of us paid for it. I bought a dress a long time ago and I was booking hair and make-up appointments. Everyone treats it like another ball," she said.

"It's speeches and a sit-down dinner and everything. From what I've heard, it's pretty formal.

"It's happened every year forever. This is the first time that I'm aware of that they have cancelled it.

"On the last day of school there's a pretty big drinking culture every year, I've seen it for the past five years, it's just what happens. The teachers know but they have never done anything about it."

She said a neighbour called police to the party in Mellons Bay but the police determined that most of the students were 18 and were not breaking the law by drinking at a private house.

The neighbour then called the school because the students were in school uniform.

Hargreaves said he and a deputy principal went straight to the address and found the party "still going hard" when they got there at about 8.15am.

Steve Hargreaves: the party was
Steve Hargreaves: the party was "still going hard" when he arrived at 8.15am before school. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"They were drinking to excess. The police came. It was out of control," he said.

"We got about 30 kids' names from photos taken by the neighbour and talking to the students.

"They were not all under 18, because I have checked some of the birth dates. There's no way that we can sit by and think it's perfectly fine to drink alcohol in school uniform and then attend school."

He told the students not to come to school, but they came anyway.

He said the students then told him about several other parties and he realised that at least 100 students were involved.

Only 178 of the 450 Year 13 students had actually bought tickets to the dinner.

"Once we had removed the 100 or so that we knew about, it would have been down to an event of about 70 people, and I'm not going to run an event for 70 kids because that would not be a celebration of our final year," he said.

Ironically, he said, the dinner was started in 1998 because the annual ball in that year was cancelled "because of drinking".

But he said numbers attending the dinner had been dwindling for several years and its future was in doubt even before last week.

"We are going to rethink the whole farewell graduation process for next year, maybe involving alumni and maybe during the day, maybe a bit more meaningful," he said.

He said the college had paid a deposit for the event but the venue had been "understanding" and "have almost refunded the entire amount".

A police spokesman said police received a report at approximately 7.30am on November 6 about a group of people drinking at a Mellons Bay address.

"Police attended the scene and spoke to a person who lives at the address," he said. "No offence was detected and police subsequently left the scene."