The days of a student presenting their teacher with an apple as a token of their appreciation are long gone. It is de rigueur for today's teachers, come the end of the school year, to be handed anything from flowers and chocolates to toiletries and bottles of wine.
But school staff should be cautious about accepting inappropriate gifts, and wary about what students expect to receive in return, according to one secondary teacher.
In tomorrow’s TES, Caroline Ross from Hampshire explains why “a gift is never just a gift”. “Whether it is a gift of ‘love’ (a student with a ‘crush’ is a common problem for teachers), an attempt to lessen given or future punishments, an intended bribe for better grades, or simply a nice gesture – you have to handle the situation with extreme care,” she writes.
Caroline, for her part, has received all manner of presents from her students over the years, including a drawing of a Tardis, a “rather beautiful scarf” and, most worryingly, a stolen box of Ferrero Rocher. “Since then, any chocolate gift is viewed with suspicion and to my chagrin, each pretty box is met with an interrogation as to its origin,” she adds.
Without doubt, though, the most surreal gift was proffered when a Year 7 male student dropped to one knee, proposed and handed her a “beautiful” ring. The episode was eventually resolved by a meeting between the pupils’ head of year and his parents to explain why the “lavish” offering was inappropriate, resulting, predictably, in “embarrassed faces all round”.
The simple act of accepting a gift can have altogether more serious consequences, however. The Bribery Act of 2010 applies to teachers as much as any other citizen; if a child offers a gift and ends up receiving preferential treatment which strays into the realm of the illegal, potential sanctions include unlimited fines and even 10 years' imprisonment.
The onus, Caroline believes, should be on schools to clearly define which gifts can or cannot be accepted by teachers.
“Of course, it is sad that a token of appreciation for your time and effort prompts fear rather than gratitude,” she adds, “but unfortunately this is the nature of the current environment and we must react accordingly.”