And a very merry Christmas to you, too

What a jolly chap was Ebenezer Scrooge even before his conversion by the ghost of Jacob Marley and attendant spirits. He would not have been allowed on the Teachernet website that had been developed by the UK Department of Education as a resource for teachers. Its purpose is to assist teachers in their attempts to make Christmas a happy and wondrous experience for their little charges. So what sort of advice did the website (now withdrawn, according to the DoE) give?

Well, apparently it is vital that children do not get scared by Father Christmas. If a school was planning a visit by Santa Claus (I am delighted to hear that there are still non-pc schools that plan such things) teachers must make sure that fearful children are near an exit. The same planning is to apply to pantomime visits.

In itself that is not such a terrible advice. Some young children do get scared, though not by the ho-ho-ing Father Christmas so much as by the villains in the pantomime. In fact, very young children are not really a suitable audience for pantomimes with hissing villains. But surely, that is something teachers and parents can work out for themselves. Apparently not.

The rest of the advice was a little more specific and, according to some, completely off the wall. It seems teachers were to discourage children from sending cards to their fellow pupils because that wastes paper.

Head teachers were advised to hold school assemblies with the theme of “the aftermath of Christmas” in which children were to act out the opening of presents and advent calendars (which should all have been opened by Christmas Eve anyway, but perhaps the creators of Teachernet don’t know it) and throwing the paper on the floor to highlight the waste of paper at Christmas.

Teachers were to discourage children from giving wrapped presents and encourage them to give “experience” presents such as breakfast in bed for their parents. What kind of a mind describes breakfast in bed as an “experience present”? Not to mention the fact that if we are talking about really young children, breakfast in bed may not be a particularly peaceful experience for the harassed parents.

The truth is that most parents treasure presents and cards that their young offspring create for them. My bookshelves are still covered with drawings and creations given to me by my daughter at a young age. Like most mothers I would not swap those daubs for anything in the world. But what makes them special is the creativity and the desire to give behind them. To reduce it all to an avoidance of paper wastage presupposes a mind that is akin to that of the White Witch’s in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, under whose rule it was always winter and never Christmas. And, of course, now that I think of it, those drawings and paper boxes and models would be discouraged by the rules on Teachernet as well. After all, it is all a waste of paper.

And for entertainment? Well, non-competitive games, of course. All shall have prizes and “pass the parcel” is to be outlawed as it could cause anxieties in children who did not win.

The Department came under a good deal of criticism from parents’ groups and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, in response to which it said “wasn’t me, sir”, and removed the advice, muttering that this was not government policy (do they have a policy on Christmas?) and, anyway, they were not responsible for the content of the website they hosted.

Meanwhile, in another burst of Christmas jollity, it has emerged that the UK banks do not recognize the British Forces Post Office (BFPO), the address used by soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as being legitimate under recently introduced anti-fraud rules. And that, in turn, means that the soldiers cannot order presents on the internet to send home to their families. Which is, of course, just what the anti-fraud rules were introduced for.

Questions have been asked in Parliament and Apacs, the UK banking association has promised to correct the rules. Unfortunately, they added, it is unlikely to be before Christmas.

Bah humbug does not really do any of this justice.

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