Parents of a child at a top primary school in London offered their teacher a trip to their second home in Mustique - all flights included, as a seasonal thank you, while another parent who was also a dentist, tried to give an expensive course of teeth whitening treatments, researchers were told.
A survey by the high street retailer revealed that seven out of ten (69%) parents of primary school-aged children and one in four (26%) parents of secondary school pupils, felt under pressure to give a gift to teachers of their offspring.
Of all those who gave a gift, four out of ten (40%) said they ended up spending more than they really wanted to on the present.
Despite gloomy economic news and fears of a triple-dip recession, many parents will still spend more on teachers’ gifts this year, in a bid to keep up with their peers, or in the hope of better academic results for their children.
One head teacher of a regularly over-subscribed school in the South East said: “I have witnessed parents give designer handbags, silk scarves and expensive watches. A lot of it is kindness and generosity but there has definitely been an element of keeping up with other parents and the hope that it will improve their children’s grades, which of course it won’t.”
Another, who used to teach at an affluent Home Counties village school, revealed: “The parents there turned it into a bit of a competition which was very awkward.
“They’d present you with gifts at the door and insist you opened them in front of the other mums. I got bottles of Bollinger champagne and luxury hampers. All very nice, but it was just as nice and far less pretentious to be given a small box of chocolates on the last day of term and a card with a few words of thanks in it.”
Another recent trend is for parents of a whole class to club together at Christmas to buy teacher a gift voucher. With the average contribution being £10 per parent, and most classes being made up of 30 children, some teachers can enjoy a gift voucher worth a whopping £300. Even if split between the teacher and two teaching assistants, they could still receive vouchers worth £100 each.
One mother said: “I was approached in the playground to contribute £10. But I don’t want to spend that much. I have three children in different classes and just can’t afford it. But I felt embarrassed saying no.”
Debenhams carried out their survey after their personal shoppers reported being approached by customers to help choose suitable gifts for teachers.
However, according to The Good Schools Guide, all that parental effort could well be wasted as some of the top ten Christmas presents teachers claim to appreciate the most, are the least expensive; such as chocolates, a bottle of alcohol, note cards or a pot plant.
A primary school teacher explained: “At my school some parents felt obliged to contribute more than they could afford so it was suggested that the class whip round should not be for more than £1. The simplest presents like something home-made or a small box of chocolates have always meant the most to me. And a thoughtful message in a card is always worth so much more than a gift.”
Debenhams spokeswoman, Elena Antoniou, said: “It appears parents find buying teachers a Christmas present a bit of a minefield. We have had many mums, dads and carers coming into stores asking our personal shoppers for help.
“While it is a lovely thought to buy a gift, we would stress that there are many low-cost options in our stores that would make delightful presents, without the need for any parents to feel they have to go over budget.
“Also it seems worth remembering that the message from teachers seems to be to keep it simple. If you are going to buy a present it should be about saying thank you, not about trying to compete with other parents or find favour with teaching staff.”
Internet discussion on the subject of gifts for teachers is rife and has provoked comments which appear to back the view that the most valued presents are those which cost the least:
Thiftylady, on moneysavingexpert.com, described as a former teacher from Worcester, summed up the attitude of many saying: “This year I've finally come to the conclusion that I don't need to get presents for my kids' teachers. I'm an ex-teacher and it is nice to get gifts, provided they aren't dodgy ornaments, but I know I wouldn't mind not getting them.
“Teachers are being paid to do the job after all. The thing I'd appreciate most as a teacher would be a letter from a parent thanking me for the hard work I'd put in teaching their child… If you're really impressed with a teacher send a copy to the head too, and let the teacher know that you have.”
Candygirl, who described herself as a teacher, said on mumsnet: “I'd appreciate anything home-made, especially a good behaviour contract signed and dated till the pupil leaves my school.”
The Inland Revenue warns that any gift with a value over £25 has to be declared.
Debenhams conducted a survey of just under 2000 customers.