Parents Should Not Be Pressured To Buy Teachers Christmas Presents

For parents struggling to make ends meet, it's another thing to worry about during a financially demanding period
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Christmas is an expensive time of year and is especially difficult for families facing financial hardship. That’s why Scottish parents’ organisation Connect has called for parents and parent groups to rethink the giving of expensive Christmas presents to teachers.

In early December 2017, a parent called our advice line with a query about a class collection that was being made to buy a Christmas present for her child’s teacher. Along with other parents in the class, the parent had been asked for a £10 contribution. She wanted to know if she had to pay it, and was distressed because she’d been told that if she didn’t, her child’s name wouldn’t go on the class Christmas card.

We’ve heard of other instances involving larger amounts of money, of lavish designer label gifts, and of an escalating phenomenon that makes everyone, especially teachers, uncomfortable. Families are under a lot of financial pressure over the festive season, and buying gifts for teachers just adds to this.

We decided to do what we can to raise the issue, and worked with the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union and Child Poverty Action Scotland, to raise the issue this year in good time to allow families and school communities to think again. We’re jointly saying that a simple ‘thank you’ to children’s teachers really is enough.

We know parents feel very grateful to their child’s teachers – but spending a lot of money on presents is neither necessary nor is it the best way to express that gratitude. We’re inviting parents to chat to their children about the importance of their teachers and to think about how much teachers help them. This might lead to a heartfelt ‘thank you’ or a small note or a homemade card of thanks.

The Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, is fully supporting this campaign. Teachers find it awkward and uncomfortable to receive gifts because they struggle to find the right balance between thanking children for gifts and avoiding making children feel unhappy or inadequate who have not brought in presents. For teachers, it’s a no-win situation. A teacher in Dundee told us that a child in her class regularly came to school with no snack because there was no money at home for this. One week her mum had 16p to last the week. Yet the same child brought in a box of chocolates at Christmas and the teacher felt terrible accepting it.

Earlier this year, we ran a parent survey about the support available in schools to families facing financial hardship. The responses from parents told us two things: firstly that some families struggling with money worries felt painfully excluded from the life of their child’s school; secondly, that parents and parent groups wanted to do everything they could to help families in their community who are facing difficulty.

Re-thinking – and discouraging – Christmas gifts for teachers is an obvious way to support families at what is a really challenging and expensive time of year.

In one response to our survey, a parent described the sense of isolation and desperation she felt because she didn’t have the money for class outings, school fairs, home baking donations, or for child care or bus fares to enable her to go to evening or weekend events at the school. So she and her child didn’t (couldn’t) go to anything at the school because there was always a cost.

The number of families living with financial hardship keeps increasing and has led to an important rethink in Scottish school communities about the demands being made on parents and families, and the barriers this creates. This has led to a campaign called the Cost of the School Day.

Schools are having to reconsider their uniform policies and lateness policies – if a child’s family can’t afford school uniform, or struggles to help a child get to school on time, what is the sense of punishing the child? We know that poverty and educational attainment are linked, yet in school we are prepared to add to the disadvantage.

We know of many parent groups and schools that are working together to see what can be done to make sure every family can be involved in the life of the school and feels welcomed and included.

Everyone in school communities should think again about teachers’ gifts – whether parents compete to buy lavish Christmas presents or struggle to afford a token of appreciation, it really isn’t necessary. There’s an easy answer: just say ‘thank you’ instead. It’s about children and their teachers in the season of goodwill – and that shouldn’t come down to pounds and pence!