Giving Teachers Gifts

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Should teachers accept ‘end of term’ gifts?

The answer to that question is obviously ‘Yes’ – teachers deserve it, but if only it were that simple. Other professions have strict advice and guidance about gift giving with transparency given pride of place. It is the norm for many companies and organisations that staff aren’t permitted to accept personal gifts from clients and customers. So, should teaching be any different?

Across the board, consistency is what the NHS are aiming to achieve by having a national code on conflicts of interests and NHS England’s new guidance provides sensible advice in relation to accepting gifts. It is well worth looking at and can help support a good judgement in education circles too.

Do teachers have a similar code of conduct? Unfortunately, we don’t and it is a matter for individual schools to decide how best to approach gift-giving.

You Shouldn’t Have!

Children like to show their appreciation so buying a present for their class teacher is almost an end of term tradition and ritual but parents shouldn’t feel obliged to. But there is a pressure to do something and gifting etiquette is tricky with lots of unwritten rules.

A class gift is now commonplace where there is a ‘whip-round’ organised by one parent on behalf of everyone else – some parents contribute to this and still, buy an individual present as well.

Unfortunately, there are misguided websites and parenting blogs that advise parents what to buy their teachers for the end of term!

But gift-giving isn’t expected and it isn’t necessary. It can also leave teachers and some children feeling very awkward. Gifts range from chocolate, wine, ties, ‘smellies’, mugs, teddies, retail cards, opera tickets, jewellery… and beyond.

Buying presents can damage relationships especially when children start comparing who bought what fuelled by the anxieties of their Mum- or Dadzillas.

Some presents melt your heart though – you know the ones, the heart and soul home-made creations that have taken hours to make. Those are priceless.

Sometimes you don’t get anything at all, not even a thank you. Okay, a polite thank you would be nice but we shouldn’t expect that either. It’s a job. Do we thank the train driver every time we get off a train? They never get a tip!

Blame The Shops

We’ve got to blame something or someone so let’s take a pop at the shops for the crazy culture of present-giving. Teaching unions have often pointed out that present giving has become over-commercialised and competitive. Christmas and the end of the summer term are the two big hitters.

Of course, it isn’t just the shops but ruthless retailers have jumped on a bandwagon, pumped the balloons and made teddies and mugs devoted to ‘The World’s Best Teacher’ a tacky side-show to keep them going until Back To School promotions (which ironically start the day after we break up).

But then we could blame ‘the system’ too.

In some of the top independent schools, the spectre of corruption has been reported as a concern with some staff being showered with vulgar and expensive gifts in order to buy favouritism, obtain better treatment and to “make sure my child is always on the radar”

Buying gifts to curry favour is rare but it is there.

Thanks But No Thanks

To avoid confusion, miscommunication and embarrassment, many schools have a Gift Giving Policy and adopt strict guidelines about what is acceptable. For example,

If a gift is received from a student or the parent/s of a student and the value is £20 or over this gift is to be registered in the Register of Gifts and Hospitality. If a gift is received from a group of students (i.e. more than 3 students) and the value of the gift is £50 or over this gift is to be registered in the Register of Gifts and Hospitality. Unions have recommended that a maximum limit on gifts needs to be set. A cap is a sensible idea and for any gifts that do get given worth over £50, they can be raffled off.

There are other alternatives some schools have adopted such as:

1. Gifting the school

Instead of gifting an individual teacher, why not give parents the option of gifting the school? If head teachers are having to run marathons to save staff being sacked because of budget cuts then what’s wrong with saying ‘support our school’ SOS style? No wine please, we need your money!

2. Give to charity

Instead of gifting presents you could accept ‘donations’ of money that then goes directly to a charity or collection of charities. For example, Practical Action offers a range of educational gifts for teachers to transform the lives of poor people around the world.

No Surprises

Giving presents is not at all as simple as it used to be. It can cause resentment and spoil the end of the year rather than put the cherry on top which is why a national code of conduct would help enormously to help teachers and parents avoid the trauma and guide behaviour.

If parents want to give then they should definitely not go overboard but opt for personal tokens of appreciation or small gifts as appropriate gestures.

Expecting nothing is definitely the best policy.

N.b. Quoted in the Financial Times: Should you buy a Christmas gift for your child’s teacher? (Claer Barrett, December 2018)


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