Suits you, Sir? Lavish gift pitfalls top union's annual agenda

26th March 2010 at 00:00
From expensive presents to 'terrifying' language tutoring, Irena Barker examines some of the issues up for discussion at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Manchester next week

The tradition of pupils giving gifts to their teachers has become too commercialised and competitive, with staff receiving expensive presents such as Tiffany bracelets and tickets to the opera, a teaching union has warned.

A survey found teachers were given goodies ranging from #163;1,000 gift vouchers to Mulberry handbags, prompting concerns that gift-giving has become an expensive exercise in one-upmanship.

Teachers have complained that commercialisation of the end- of-term tradition has also led to them being swamped by unwanted tat from supermarkets and cardshops cashing in on the phenomenon.

The survey of more than 1,000 staff by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found gifts handmade by pupils were popular with teachers. But the most frequently given gifts were chocolates, plants, toiletries and mugs.

One primary teacher taking part in the survey said excessive gift-giving had reached an "unhealthy" level in his school.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, warned that some teachers who were offered "embarrassingly large gifts" could become stressed by the gesture, for fear that they were actually veiled bribes.

"I know a teacher who was offered a holiday for trying to get a boy into a music scholarship at Eton, but he didn't take it," she said.

She added that most teachers would "really appreciate" just a small token from parents or pupils.

"Teachers will be as delighted by a handmade calendar or a bunch of flowers from the garden as they would a box of chocolates.

"You don't want a keeping up with the Jones' attitude, it's the thought that counts."

The survey, carried out by the ATL, also revealed some interesting divisions between the private and state sectors.

Private school teachers were far more likely to receive alcohol, and state school staff were more likely to receive mugs.

Jenny Inglis, an ATL executive member who will speak on the issue at the union's annual conference next week, added that a tradition that had once been "spontaneous and genuine" had been "clouded by merchandising".

She said it was particularly hard for poor families who might feel obliged to buy a gift they couldn't afford because everyone else was.

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