Falkirk Council bans teacher gifts this Christmas

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Children with Christmas gift ideas for their teachers can forget it now – because they have been banned from giving them presents.

Falkirk Council has advised its schools to tell parents and pupils not to give any Christmas presents to teachers and staff – a rule which has been in force for a number of years when it comes to other council employees.

The move seems to follow general guidelines laid down by official bodies like Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to ensure staff adhere to the highest standards of public service.

However, the ban was met with anger from many parents who could not understand why it has been put in place now.

One parent, who did not want to be named, saw red when she received a pre-Christmas newsletter from her child’s primary school last week.

The newsletter stated: “As we approach Christmas and recognise that children often bring gifts to school for teachers and other staff, we have been asked to share a new policy from Falkirk Council which prevents any employee from receiving gifts.

“We therefore ask that if you or your child wishes to gift anything to staff that this could possibly be in the form of a card. We appreciate your co-operation.”

The angry mother 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.

“He got quite upset when I told him what the newsletter said and couldn’t understand why giving his teacher a present was a bad thing. It’s never anything big or expensive, just something thoughtful.”

Members, officers and employees must follow Falkirk Council’s policies and procedures – in particular the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, the Code of Conduct for Members and Officers, and employees’ Conditions of Service – which contain rules on issues such as gifts, hospitality, use of council resources and conflicts of interest.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “Some parents and pupils choose to offer a gift to a member of the school team at this time of year. While the sentiment is understood, the council has agreed a policy which sets out clearly that no member of staff working for Falkirk Council should accept gifts or hospitality.

“This policy has been in place for non-teaching staff for a number of years. If any gifts or hospitality offers are accepted then these must be properly recorded and headteachers or service managers should be informed.”

Colin Finlay, EIS learning representative, said: “This is not Falkirk Council making the rules – they are just complying with the rules laid down by the HMRC. Every time this comes up the council are said to be mean at Christmas but they are HMRC rules and it will be Falkirk Council that fall foul of them if they are breached.

“When it comes to teachers receiving gifts these rules can be difficult to enforce – parents and pupils want to reward their teachers for being good teachers.

“According to the HMRC, gifts to council employees can be perceived to be, on some occasions, something like a bribe. Imagine if you had a building control officer getting a bottle of whisky as a gift from a contractor who had just won a contract or for a plan that had just gone through.

“I believe employees must declare any gifts which cost over £12. It shouldn’t come into force if you give your teacher a box of chocolates.

“Where it might impact teachers is if a group of parents club together and get a teacher an expensive gift.”