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All I want for Christmas is ewe

Forget the reindeers and turkeys - at this festive time of year, some teachers and pupils find they have a particular soft spot for sheep.

Christmas gifts from pupils can sometimes be embarrassing for school staff - but a few teachers will be looking particularly sheepish this festive season.

In Christmases past, The TES has reported teachers receiving embarrassingly large presents, such as sponsorship of a killer whale, and embarrassingly small presents, such as skimpy lingerie.

This year - however many schools abandon the traditional nativity play and its star-gazing shepherds - sheep will remain an enduring part of Christmas for some teachers.

Jim McManners, head of the environmental award-winning Cassop Primary in County Durham, farms a flock of 60 sheep.

Each year, he says, a theme runs through the Christmas cards he receives from pupils: sheep. For Christmas, his sheep will be fed cake - and will gain a reprieve from the slaughterhouse. "I'll be having turkey for Christmas dinner," Mr McManners said.

Down south in East Sussex, music teacher Tim Costello has been overwhelmed with Christmas gifts of stuffed sheep ever since he made Shaun the Sheep (from Wallace and Gromit) his class mascot.

But the ultimate expression of his pupils' affection for sheep came when one Year 8 boy, who lived on a farm, presented him with half a sheep, frozen.

Mr Costello, head of music at Ringmer Community College near Lewes in East Sussex, gave some of the sheep to friends, some to neighbours - and ate the rest for Christmas dinner.

Anne Paterson - who, like Mr McManners and Mr Costello, has claimed a top prize at the Teaching Awards - is now an adviser at Inveraray Primary School in Argyll, Scotland. But that allows her enough time to shepherd her flock of 980 sheep on a hill farm overlooking Loch Fyne.

She takes classes up to the farm: "It's something that I'm passionate about, that children do connect with their environment," she said.

So those pupils will be relieved to know that her sheep will get extra dinner next week, rather than becoming dinner. Mrs Paterson and her husband will instead be eating goose for Christmas dinner.

Parents of children at Eastfield primary in Leicestershire have been queuing up to care for its animals on December 25.

The school is setting up its own farm and has 13 chickens, two ducks, six bantams and two rabbits, and is now preparing for the arrival of two sheep and two pigs in January. Seven families volunteered for the twice daily feeding and cleaning duties at the school's chicken coop.

While it would be a severely jaded teacher who turned away the gift of an apple from a pupil, fruit would now seem to be somewhat passe. Jemma Kidd, the celebrity make-up artist and sister of Jodie Kidd, suggested the more enduring gift of nominating a teacher for the Teaching Awards.

"Teaching is something I feel passionate about and teachers certainly aren't recognised enough," she said. "Let's give something back and say thank you."

See to nominate a teacher online


Christmas cheer was thin on the ground last week in the nursery of Busby Primary School in Renfrewshire as teachers fought over where to position the classroom Christmas tree.

Cheryl Williams, from Stewarton in Ayrshire, allegedly assaulted her colleague during the festive fracas, which took place in front of toddlers, parents and staff.

Mrs Williams has since been suspended from the school while an internal investigation is carried out.

Meanwhile, unholy scenes were also playing out at the other end of the country. Parents at Wellesley Park Primary in Wellington, Somerset, saw red when a shortage of tickets for the school's nativity play left them locked out of the inn. One of the Wise Men got up on stage to protest, while other parents pulled their children from the play.

The school denied reports that some parents forged their tickets and said that as far as they were concerned the performance went smoothly.

Georgia Warren.

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