MORE than £3 million of gifts will be given to teachers by pupils and their grateful parents this Christmas, according to a classroom survey.
The soaring sums spent on presents for teachers has split opinion, however, with campaigners saying the growing trend has gone too far and is putting parents under unfair pressure.
It has become a tradition for youngsters to give a gift to their teacher at the end of term, a token gesture to say thanks for all their hard work throughout the year.
And with an average spend of £8 per pupil, and around three quarters of the average class of 25 bringing in presents, the nation’s 24,477 primary school teachers are likely to have £3.5m worth of extra presents under the tree.
Often children will give their teachers wine, chocolates or flowers but some gifts are much more lavish.
Now Connect – formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council – is advising families not to buy presents for teachers, due to the financial pressure it can place on hard-up families.
Executive director Eileen Prior said: “This issue arose because a parent phoned in last year, saying she was being asked for £10 by the Parent Council for the teacher’s class present, and did she have to give this? Of course she didn’t have to but she felt under pressure.
“Earlier this year, we ran a parent survey about supporting families facing financial hardship. This demonstrated that parents want everyone to feel included in the life of the school and really wanted to help. They can do this by supporting our campaign which asks everyone to think again about the whole teacher gift issue.
“Parents told us of their experiences of real hardship, describing how they felt left out of the life of the school community.
“Parental involvement too often hinges on spending money for fundraising or on going into the school in the evenings, which is difficult if you don’t have someone to look after your children.
“Christmas is such a pressured, expensive time of year for families and everybody, including teachers, wants to reduce that pressure.
“Teacher gift-giving usually occurs intensively in nurseries and primary schools. Whether we are talking about huge sums of money, or lesser amounts, any contribution to a class teacher gift can be too much for a family with money worries.”
And some teachers are feeling awkward about it too.
One told The Sunday Post: “I would say about 70% of the class on average give a gift at Christmas. It’s a thoughtful touch, but absolutely not expected.
“Many teachers actually feel embarrassed by it in the current climate. Some children buy for several teachers if there’s a job share and classroom assistants too. It all adds up.
“Sometimes we get lavish gifts, but a box of chocolates for the staff room is well received. One of the best presents I’ve ever had from a child was a homemade, handwritten card.
“But we don’t need anything. A simple thank you is enough.
“It sounds corny but seeing children doing well in class and enjoying school is the best present for teachers.”
Teachers’ union the EIS added: “Teachers are very much aware of the financial pressures that thousands of families are under every day of the year – and especially at Christmas.
“Schools have been working hard to cut the cost of the school day and to ensure that all children can be involved in all aspects of school life without having to pay.
“Christmas gifts for teachers are simply unaffordable for many families and are unnecessary anyway. School communities will want to keep down the cost of the school day around Christmas, too, so that all children can take full part in the festivities on an equal footing.
“There would be no better gift for a teacher than seeing this.”
The Scottish Government said: “While schools may have policies and guidance on gifts provided to teachers the purchasing of gifts for school staff is ultimately a matter for individual parents and school staff.
“We do, however, recognise that parents can face pressures from the costs associated with sending their child to school and have provided funding to the Child Poverty Action Group to highlight the total ‘Cost of the School Day’ and identify ways that schools, local authorities and central government can work to address this.”
Then: An apple Now: A £60 bottle
The teacher gift market is so big that manufacturers are coming up with bespoke gifts for teachers.
John Lewis is selling a personalised ‘teacher’s bits and bobs’ keepsake box for £40.
House of Fraser has a £49 Laura Mercier beauty box under ‘teachers gifts’. Marks & Spencer is marketing a £60 bottle of Laurent-Perrier Champagne and a £55 men’s watch as a “top class gift for teachers to help little ones say thank you at the end of term”.
And online retailer Not on the High Street has a section dedicated to gifts for teachers, including a personalised bag at £30 and personalised candles costing £39.
The big debate: Two mums on gifts for teachers
Clare Johnston, 45, from Edinburgh, has always bought presents for her children’s teachers.
My kids are 12 and 14 now but when they were at primary school, there would usually be a mum from each class who would organise presents for the teachers.
As they got older though, and as parents became less hands-on, those volunteers stopped stepping forward and it became every mum for themselves.
To me, a gift is a token of your appreciation. It doesn’t matter if it cost you £1 or £10, it’s the fact you’ve taken time to do something for the person who – if they’re doing a good job – is going the extra mile for your child every day. It’s often the parents who have the least who give the most because, whatever they give, it’s a major sacrifice.
Chocolates became the default, but that can add up when you have four or five people to buy for.
Again, I would usually go small at Christmas and buy them a larger gift in summer.
Parent Hayley Cook, 35, from Bellshill, Lanarkshire, has never bought gifts for teachers.
My children have excellent teachers, but when it comes to buying gifts for them it’s something I simply cannot afford to do.
I have three children and buying at the end of term and at Christmas is just too much.
It’s such a costly time that I have to cut back on some things. I have a few teacher friends and some of the gifts they receive are way and beyond what I could ever afford to give so I don’t even try to keep up.
I’ve actually heard some of them say they wish they didn’t get as much as they’ve nowhere to keep all the stuff. My children tend to make their teachers thank you cards as a small token for all their hard work and I think that’s enough.
“Money is tight enough as it is these days, and not showering teachers with gifts doesn’t make us any less grateful.”