A private girls’ school that counts Samantha Cameron among its alumna has requested parents adhere to a £50 cap on Christmas gifts for teachers.
The concern is that with some parents producing crazily expensive gifts like Mulberry handbags, teachers felt they were placed in awkward positions.
The bursar of the £5,490-a-term St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, David Eley, wrote: “We have issued this letter to parents to provide clarity and to prevent placing staff or parents in an awkward position.”
The school had a great relationship with parents, Eley added, and a sense of community that was “built on this kind of transparency/clarity”.
But the cap has since been criticised from both sides, with some people aghast that a limit would be placed on giving, and others wondering who can afford to spend this much on presents in the first place.
Janita Gray from the Good Schools Guide told Schools Week the letter was a “bureaucratic killjoy” and that context mattered. “All teachers, whether in a private or state school, put in so much hard work that it’s natural for parents to want to recognise that, particularly at this time of year,” she said.
“The implication is that it’s some kind of bribe, but what realistically would you hope to achieve by that? But you might thank a teacher who has gone above and beyond for your child. It may be genuine and a one-off.”
It’s a tricky situation. You can’t allow dodgy parents to think they can bribe their kids’ teachers – picture some extraordinarily wealthy rotter on parents’ evening, jabbing at a B on a school report with his leather-gloved hand, and casually suggesting that a Michelin-starred restaurant might be the perfect place to reconsider how hard his little angel had worked.
On the other hand, isn’t announcing a limit sort of normalising that sum? If you got an invite to a birthday do that said “please don’t spend more than £50 on my present”, you’d think you had to spend that much (and you wouldn’t go, and you’d be right not to).
If someone really has worked wonders on your little one and dramatically improved their life, and you’re extraordinarily grateful, and you’ve got the money, can’t you reward them? But what about the kids whose families don’t have cash to spare? And when that cash is £50, that’ll be most of us.
Needless to say, people had views on the appropriateness, or not, of the cap:
Ultimately, nobody knows more on the subject than teachers, and the presents that seem to mean the most to them aren’t the designer handbags or fancy meals, but hand-crafted gifts and cards made with love.
“If there’s a present, it should be an acknowledgement, not a bribe,” Anne, a retired primary teacher tells HuffPost UK. “A handwritten card is, honestly, the nicest thing you can be given. Although if it comes attached to a box of Maltesers, there’s never anything wrong with that.
She agreed expensive presents were unfair: “I once had a child wrap a rubber in a piece of A4 paper and give it to me, because the other kids were handing presents over. And after the Nativity play one year, a parent came up and handed me a turkey. It was a lovely idea, but a difficult bus ride home!”