School Summer Holidays: Giving Presents To Teachers And Competitive Parents


For some reason, my sons' primary school broke up for the summer holidays two days later than the rest of the country – much to their displeasure ('It's character building,' I assured them, as they bleated about life not being fair etc etc).

But I was quite relieved about this. One, it meant I got a couple of extra days' free childcare (just joking, NOT, calm yourselves down) but, two, it meant I managed to right the wrong I'd committed last Friday – when I forgot to buy presents for my children's teachers and assistants.

Now as many of you know, this has become a bit of a minefield of late.

I mean, what do you buy for a woman – for all the staff at my sons' school are women - you know hardly anything about?

Chocolates (what if she's on a diet?); wine (what if she's tee-total?); flowers (what if she's allergic?); a pen (that's taking coals to Newcastle, surely?); perfume (wife complains: 'You never buy me perfume.'); jewellery made from loom bands, lovingly woven by my boys' own fair hands?


What could be more special, more thoughtful, more personal than a chain of brightly coloured elastic bands linked together by a teacher's pupil?

I could almost hear the sighs of gratitude and praise heading my way.

"What an amazing dad," they'd say.

"Such a sensitive chap," they'd agree.

"What lucky boys to have a father so in touch with his feminine side," they'd nod.

So last weekend, I set the boys to work in our kitchen sweat shop (well, it's been hot, hasn't it?) and over an hour or so they put their obsessive playground craze-iness to altruistic good by weaving a range of hand-crafted jewellery that would easily sell on eBay for £1.70 (as opposed to £170,000 that one dress sold for – though the seller hasn't seen the money from the bidder yet!).

Come Monday after, my sons' teachers and teaching assistants (seven giftees in total) would be joining the ranks of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, David Beckham, Miley Cyrus and Harry Styles.

And I would be crowned King of the Teachers' Gift Givers. Well, at my age, pats on the head are few and far between.

Take 'em where you can get 'em! But just as I was feeling full to the brim with myself, I read a report that said I wouldn't be alone with my loom band benevolence – that, in fact, a fifth of pupils would be giving one of the bracelets to 'Sir' or 'Miss' to mark the end of term.

Oops! Back to the drawing board.

Can't be seen to be following the crowd. Gotta give the teachers something they want. Gotta give them something they will cherish and remember. Gotta give them a gift that will say: "My word, that Dad is such an amazing gift giver that I will make sure his children have preferable treatment for the rest of their primary school careers."

I am only partly joking. For Competitive Gift Giving is a real thing. You can even buy presents online – mugs, desk tidies, clocks, biscuit tins, wine and glasses, and even a blue heritage plaque to hang on their wall – all personalised for your child's favourite educator.

In fact, is has become such a phenomenon that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have called for a truce.

It follows news that at one school in Cardiff, a teacher was given a five star hotel break with a meal and spa treat from his class in which every pupil had contributed £10.

In another Cardiff school, 30 five year olds went home from their state school primary with an envelope in their bag containing a printed message asking for a £5 donation to buy vouchers from a well known department store for the teaching assistant.

And one teacher revealed how she was given a £50 bottle of champagne and £50 in gift vouchers from individual children.

This is massively over-the-top, according to the ATL, which said: "It's understandable that children want to show their appreciation of a teacher who has meant a great deal to them but quite often it's the small, personal gifts that really count to the member of staff concerned.

"There are creeping costs associated with education, such as uniform and school trips, that we need to monitor carefully.

"We should not be adding to those and no parent should feel under pressure to make a donation."

David Pedwell, a former head teacher with 40 years' experience in St Mellons, Cardiff, said: "You can't prevent it and all credit to the teacher concerned - but are all parents willing to contribute? Some parents might find it difficult to say no - and where does it stop?"

The key to the competitiveness seems to lie with parents themselves, with some feeling harangued into contributing a fiver or a tenner to a teachers' present fund.

But how do you get out of it?

Psychology lecturer Dr Gabriela Jiga-Boy from Swansea University said: "Resisting peer pressure is hard for everyone.

"First, those who try to resist need to exercise a 'minority influence' which is particularly challenging and lonely.

"Second, resisting might be even harder for a parent because of what the others might see in it: A selfish act to opt-out from contributing to a collective goal of rewarding a crucial actor in a child's life [the teacher].

"They might also need to challenge the need for an extravagant present. After all, many external rewards for our activities actually decrease our internal motivation to perform them well."

I came up with a simpler solution when my boys broke up on Tuesday: I bought a job lot of chocolates from the local supermarket, divided them into individual bags, got my boys to scrawl 'Thank you notes' on said bag.

And then, on the morning of their last day, sent them into school to deliver their gifts – while I made a dart for it, avoiding all eye contact with parental rivals weighed down with bouquets of flowers and wheelbarrow-loads of confectionary and nail varnish.

I'm sure my sons' teachers and their assistants would have been happy with their personalised gifts; I certainly hope so, for they are great teachers and lovely assistants.

But if they were a bit miffed by my stinginess, I'm sure other parents more than made up for it!

Besides, teachers do their jobs for love, not presents. Fact!