Gifts for teachers are getting out of control
In some schools, a thank-you for Miss now means a designer handbag or vintage wine rather than a box of chocolates. It's time we put a stop to gift inflation, says Rosie Millard
So, here's the thing. I do my job. My various employers are happy with my work. I get paid. That's the contract. I don't get flowers every quarter, or Body Shop soap, wine or vouchers for Selfridges. That's because I am a freelance journalist, not a primary-school teacher. Perhaps I'm in the wrong job. The custom of bringing in flowers, or an apple, or a dear little handmade card for Miss, has become so inflated that those guiding our infants through Key Stage 1 are now, according to the latest edition of Tatler, in regular receipt of designer handbags, diamond necklaces or even the free use of a private jet.
All right, that is the state of play in certain private schools whose pupils are the offspring of bonkers Russian oligarchs, so this grotesque excess can be, to a certain extent, excused, but the general trend for what is now hideously termed "the gifting culture" (there's a phrase that wouldn't pass SATs muster) is firmly established across all primary schools, both state and private. So well developed is the phenomenon that there are even two stages to it. First, the "class present", namely a collection fund that requires down payments of cash, which are then transmuted into vouchers for some swanky shop; and second, the individual presents, for each and every adult who has ever stepped into your child's classroom and handed out a set of Biff and Chip worksheets.
Those who don't want to take part in either phase are stingy bad sports. I am one such parent. My children have great teachers. But I am just not going to take part in some cheesy biannual collection for them. Actually, I'm never asked to, these days, having said "No, I don't BELIEVE in this" so loudly at the start of one Nativity play that word has got out. Ms Millard doesn't take part, even though her son was playing Joseph. Equally, I also don't do the other bit. I will not give each and every teacher, plus teaching assistants, individual gifts at the end of term, summer and winter.
What does this present mean? Thank you for doing your job? Or are there darker reasons? One unnamed head teacher in the Tatler survey admitted that parents who fling holidays in villas, cases (not bottles, note) of expensive wine and leather tat from Smythson are indulging in a pretty fancy form of bribery. Sort of "keep my child on your radar and there's more where this comes from". Some schools have been so inundated with goodies that heads insist on a £50 cap. If the present is worth more, it is put to one side and raffled, which must go down really well in the staffroom.
I am aware that coming in empty-handed on the last day of term might make my small children (mercifully, this is still a primary-school phenomenon) feel somewhat ostracised. So, some years, I force a jar of home-made chutney on them, or a bunch of flowers from the garden, and insist they write a small card to go with it. This is, of course, seen as utterly non-U by my offspring. "It's just what they would like – a personal gift!" I say. "No it's not," they mutter, knowing full well that the home-made effort in a recycled Bonne Maman jam jar is going to look terrible next to a pyramid of wine, Diptyque candles and L'Occitane lavender scrub.
Too bad. My position is clear. Teaching isn't a sort of stunt which demands a "special gift" at the end of every term. It's a skilled, professional job which, (I hope) is rewarding enough without a big bottle of Dewar's every six months to ease the burden of doing it. Teachers aren't a charity. They get a monthly pay cheque, and if they don't think that is sufficient, there is always the option of industrial action – oh, wait a minute…
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