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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 06:44 GMT
No more sherry for Miss?
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, London

A teacher's Christmas present
They may well be, but do they really want it written on their ruler?

No-one, it would appear, is exempt from the tightening reins slowly squeezing the spirit out of giving and receiving gifts.

First, the Clintons were pushed into paying for almost half the gifts they kept when leaving the White House.

Then Prince Charles' household was criticised for the way it handled official gifts.

And now some teachers are having to take special care when accepting Christmas presents from their young charges.

While some take home enough chocolate to put Willy Wonka out of business every Christmas, others have found themselves unwrapping a small-boxed meteorite specimen, two plastic bears which appear to be trying to become three, and even a bacon sandwich in the past.

If any teacher receives a present whether it's a box of chocolates or an apple, they must inform the head teacher
Westminster Council spokeswoman

All are small gifts of little value.

But what should teachers do when they find themselves in the often awkward and embarrassing position of receiving a bottle of Lambrini from an eager-to-please seven-year-old or a plane ticket from a hopelessly generous parent?

Three years ago, Leicestershire County Council ruled teachers should not accept alcohol from pupils.

For London local education authorities the matter is not as clear-cut.

A Westminster Council spokeswoman said: "If any teacher receives a present whether it's a box of chocolates or an apple, they must inform the head teacher and it is up to the head. If the gift is inappropriate, it can be declined.

"If a student or pupil was to give their teacher a bottle of wine that would not be considered appropriate."

But not all head teachers agree.

'Bribe gifts'

Gabrielle Weber, head teacher of independent Woodside Park International in North Finchley, north London, is happy for her teachers to accept bottles of wine or champagne.

"I do not have a problem with it - it is up to the parents," she said.

"I do understand that gifts could be seen as a bribe or as a way of getting preferential treatment.

"If I found that one teacher was using it in that way then the rules would change.

Every time I opened another Victoriana cat in a basket, I had to say 'oh, that's lovely'
Teacher Jayne Gilbert
She said the trend now was for parents to club together to buy teachers more expensive gifts such as a day at a health spa or theatre vouchers.

But what if that expensive gift comes from just one parent?

Tim Harrison, London East regional secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "If it was a high value gift we would advise them to explain that they have been advised not to accept it."

But he disagrees with Westminster Council.

"Teachers should be able to exercise their own discretion and should not be required to automatically inform the teacher," he said.

A teacher's Christmas present
Many teachers anticipate 30 boxes of chocolates at the end of term

Gaelle Graham, a modern languages teacher for 25 years and who now works for the NUT, said there can sometimes be a case for accepting even the most expensive of presents.

She said: "Three or four years ago a young teacher from Ireland was working in Greenwich. A mum, in passing, said 'Are you going home for Christmas? He said 'I can't afford it'.

"The next day, she came in to school with a plane ticket.

"The teacher felt very uncomfortable so he phoned the local authority, who then phoned the union.

"Because he had reported it immediately and we discussed it, in the end it was all above board and the family could afford it, so he went home for Christmas.

For most though, a plane ticket is the last thing they will be expecting.

Pink presents

Jayne Gilbert, a shoe addict who loves pink, guesses she will be taking home bagfuls of pink things and shoe-related items at the end of term.

"I have been given bottles of wine or champagne in the past," said Ms Gilbert, who teaches at Meridian School in Greenwich, south-east London.

"The parents will bring it in and give it to you. To be honest, we probably don't get enough alcohol.

"Sometimes the children go to the nearest cheap shop and one year I ended up with six individual Victoriana cats in a basket.

"Every time I opened another Victoriana cat in a basket, I had to say 'oh, that's lovely'."

Ms Gilbert is not alone. Children's choices of porcelain puppies and rash-inducing glitter spray has given rise to an entire website.

Anti-wrinkle cream

Cheesy Gifts, the brainchild of a primary school teacher from Birmingham, celebrates the more unusual choice of gifts from youngsters - from a gyrating stunt pig to a sphinx encapsulated in a golden sandstorm pyramid.

The site has been visited by almost 50,000 people and seems to generate as much criticism for its mocking, tongue in cheek tone as it has fans who see it as a bit of fun and a suitable home for their seasonal collection of the kitsch and the downright tat.

So teachers, well known for their resourcefulness, seem able to get the most out of children and parents' generosity in whatever form whether plane tickets, a bottle of bubbly or a nodding dog.

But if you are a parent or pupil stuck for ideas this Christmas, heed Ms Gilbert's advice and leave the anti-wrinkle cream on the chemist's shelf.


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