Should pupils be banned from giving Christmas presents to their teachers? Michael Alexander reports.
“Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la” etc – but not, it seems if you are the powers-that-be at Falkirk Council.
In what could be the ultimate case of Bah Humbug, schools in Falkirk have been advised to tell parents and pupils not to give any Christmas presents to teachers and staff.
It follows years of all Falkirk Council employees being subject to the ban, but it is believed that this is the first year that it has applied directly to teachers.
The move follows general guidelines laid down by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to ensure staff adhere to the highest standards of public service.
But the ban has been met with anger from parents.
One mother who was informed of the ban via her son’s school newsletter said: “My son has given his teachers a Christmas present every year he has been at the school.
“I don’t see what the harm is – he just wants to show his teacher how much he appreciates the job she is doing and the help she gives him.”
David Mackay, head of education at Falkirk Council later confirmed that “small individual token gifts” may be acceptable if “properly recorded”.
However he added: “It wouldn’t be appropriate for collective gifts of considerable value to be given or received.
“We also wouldn’t encourage or expect the giving of gifts as we recognise that this may be difficult for some families due to their financial circumstances.
“If families so choose, then a simple thank you card or note would be appreciated.”
The Courier contacted the local authorities in Fife and Tayside. All confirmed they have policies on the acceptance of gifts and hospitality but none have, or intend to implement, policies which blanket ban gifts to teachers.
A spokesperson for Perth & Kinross Council said: “We don’t prohibit pupils from giving Christmas gifts to their teacher.”
Quoting from the council’s ‘Gifts and Hospitality – Policy & Procedures’ documentation relevant to all Perth & Kinross Council staff, the spokesperson added: “In certain circumstance, gifts and hospitality below the value of £25 can be accepted without the need for permission or recording unless they are received on a recurring basis.
“Permission to accept any gift or hospitality valued at £25 or greater must be obtained from an appropriate manager.
“Any decision to accept or reject a gift or hospitality valued at £25 or over must be recorded in the Service Register of Gifts and Hospitality. It is the responsibility of the employee receiving the gift or hospitality to ensure that the correct entry is made.”
An Angus Council spokesperson said: “We have no plans to change our current practice of teachers and children who wish to share small gifts doing so. This is in line with Angus Council code of conduct for employees.”
The policy states that staff should normally refuse gifts with the exception of one-off presents of a modest value such as: promotional or seasonal gifts, or simple items of office equipment such as calendars, diaries and pens, which do not need to be declared.”
The spokesperson added there may be exceptional circumstances where employees could accept more significant gifts (those with a value of more than £40).
In these circumstances the employee would need permission from their head of department or the chief executive before such gifts could be accepted.
Dundee City Council also has no specific policy banning gifts, while Fife Council also confirmed it does not forbid gifts to teachers.
Staff must, however, abide by the Fife Council code of conduct which says: “You must not accept personal gifts. Exceptions from this general rule would include modest gifts (e.g. calendars, diaries, or other small articles for office use) or an inexpensive gift from a pupil or client.”
Fife mother-of-four Holly Clark, who is chairperson of Castlehill Primary School Parent Council in Cupar, said it was a situation where common sense should prevail.
“I really can’t see the need to legislate against this,” she said.
“Giving a gift to their teachers at the end of the term or year is something a lot of children love to do, and most parents are happy to support as we’re so grateful for everything that teachers do for our children.
“Certainly the sense I get is that a homemade card with a note would be just as appreciated and that there’s no need for people to spend a lot of money in order to say thank you.”
The sentiment was backed by a Fife primary school teacher who said: “It should be completely up to the individual – nobody should be stipulating what people can and can’t buy.
“I am always very touched and appreciative of any presents that I’m given by pupils.”
A senior Kirkcaldy secondary school teacher added: “Personally, I am not in favour of a ban. I think it’s too bureaucratic and would destroy feelings of good will and good relations that have built up between pupils/families and their teachers.
“Whilst I realise schools should be wary of excessive monetary gifts or a sense of families trying to out-do each other or feeling pressure to give, I think nearly all schools and teachers can deal with this in a professional way themselves by using their own judgement and discretion.
“I think many teachers will point out the best gifts are pictures/letters that are handmade are the most special.
“I think policy makers have to take into account the pleasure pupils have in thanking teachers for their work and showing their appreciation.”
There was also opposition to any ban on the streets of Dundee city centre on Friday.
Clara Petrie, 17, a student from Dundee said: “I don’t think it’s right that presents should be banned. I always gave sweets to my teachers when I was younger. It wasn’t a problem for anyone.”
It was a view shared by Glasgow-raised Ed Feeney, 53, a support worker from Craigiebank, Dundee.
He said: “You’d give chocolates at school. I really don’t see anything wrong with that. It doesn’t matter what the present is. It’s the thought that counts!”
Meanwhile, a parent who wished to remain anonymous said: “I think it is lovely for children to give their teacher a small token of thanks at Christmas time.
“It is a nice way of expressing their, and our, gratitude for all of the hard work, kindness and support over the past year.
“However, in some cases, it has become almost a competition amongst parents to give big, expensive presents which are really not necessary.”