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Doing the dung thing at Xmas

Robert Boyland reports on the unusual delights that teachers can expect from gift-bearing pupils this year

Chocolates, smellies and plonk are the presents teachers can most expect to receive this Christmas from their pupils, but sexy negligees, recycled animal dung and even horses have been offered as gifts, TES research has found.

"I was offered a horse by some Travellers, but needless to say I had to decline gracefully," said retired headteacher Sheila Langford, recalling when she worked at a school in Paulsgrove, near Portsmouth.

Tim Walder, a primary teacher at Snowsfield school in Southwark, south London, said: "The worst I've heard of was a female colleague who got a gold lame negligee. That was a bit dodgy.

"I've been given a velvet-lined box of rather lurid make-up for my wife, which was inappropriate really because I'm not even married. More usual is a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine."

Children's gifts can be a cause of contention for married teachers when they take them home. One teacher, who would not be named for fear of offending pupils' parents was once forced to sell what amounted to a menagerie of china ornaments.

"One year, I got loads of tiny statues. One of two bunnies cuddling each other, covered in pink and green fluorescent glitter. Others were of teddies, puppies or little cottages," she said.

"My husband refused to let me put them up anywhere in the house because they were so tacky. We went to a car boot saleto get rid of them and, actually we did rather well."

Irene Hinchliffe, who teaches at Little London community primary and nursery school in Leeds recalls being given a half-eaten box of chocolates and lipstick that had already been used. "Apart from that, it's the usual selection of ornaments that you don't have enough shelves to put them on. I tend to keep them. They are stored in drawers at home because I can't bear to part with them.

"I once was given one made out of Plaster of Paris which was absolutely hideous, but it was made with such love and care that I couldn't get rid of it."

Naomi de Chastelain, a primary teacher at Grazebrook, Stoke Newington, east London, said: "You get a lot of candles and candle holders. We've got candles in almost every drawer at home.

"The best present I got was when I left a school in Bath at Christmas time. The parents clubbed together and got me a voucher for a massage, although I think the headmaster had a lot to do with that."

Steve Collins, who teaches juniors at Grazebrook, said: "On the last day of term, I'm a walking off-licence."

At Windermere St Anne's boarding school, Cumbria, teachers and staff have had exotic presents from places as far-flung as Hong Kong and Africa over the years.

Most bizarre was a photograph album made of recycled elephant dung, given to deputy head's wife Charlotte Martin.

"It was made of very rough grey paper, but luckily it was not smelly," she said.

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