Sydney In more innocent times, school pupils thanked their favourite teacher with chocolates, flowers or maybe a homemade cake, but Sydney's pushy parents are now offering the type of 'inducements' that would make a Washington lobbyist wince. School principals report that they are regularly showered with lavish gifts - such as expensive restaurant meals, cases of wine, theatre tickets, gold pens and even overseas holidays - by parents desperate to advance the prospects of their un-academic offspring. Sydneysiders are currently gripped by the story of a Chinese migrant couple, Qinghua Pei and Xiaodong Lu, who have admitted to an anti-corruption tribunal that they offered substantial cash payments to their son's teacher in the hope that he would gain entry to one of the city's better high schools. Jodie-Lee Pearce, a teacher at Westmead Public School, told the tribunal the couple handed over wads of banknotes - with the amounts varying from A$500 (HK$2,500) to A$2,000 - in an attempt to gain their son a place at one of Sydney's selective high schools. Teachers in the state school system cannot accept gifts worth more than A$50. Mr Pei believed his young son (who cannot be named for legal reasons) was destined to become a great scientist, but was being held back by his poor grades in English. He asked Ms Pearce to give his son a 'favourable consideration' in her school assessment. Both parents, who could face criminal charges, told the tribunal that members of the local Chinese community had suggested paying money to the teacher, while Mr Pei invoked the example of the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, where the hero's mother sleeps with a teacher to get her son into the right college. 'Forrest Gump's mum is a hero,' he said. The case has opened a scholastic can of worms as parents, teachers and principals reveal that the practice, though rarely discussed, is now widespread. Teachers say they routinely receive bottles of wine and Scotch, crystal and other expensive presents. Cash bribes of up to A$20,000 have been reported. At the other end of the scale, one principal said he was offered a seafood meal by a Muslim family who wanted their children to 'jump the queue' into his school. Even more sinister are the parents who 'groom' teachers in order to extract a favour for their children. Brian Chudleigh, a retired headmaster, said the grooming process often involved invitations to birthdays, dinners and other family events - as well as gifts. 'They [then] put pressure on teachers,' he said. 'They want to know what sort of things these kids will be tested on, when they will be tested, and what they can do to help. Teachers need to be very sensible about what they accept.' Education experts blame the practice on low standards within the state school system. Over the past decade, there has been a stampede away from public schools and into the private sector. Parents who cannot afford expensive school fees pin their hopes on getting their children into a handful of better-resourced state schools, but competition is stiff - this year, 13,300 students applied for just 3,522 places. 'Frankly, teachers are just as susceptible to bribery as the police or any other public service [employee],' says education writer Maralyn Parker. 'I doubt the offer of money to teachers is rare.' State corruption commissioner Jerrold Cripps is due to hand down his decision in the Pei and Lu case next year. Whatever the outcome, the case illustrates the growing gulf between the public and private school systems. Apart from paying extortionate tuition fees, the parents of privately educated children are routinely asked to donate money for building projects, squash courts and overseas study trips. What's more, there are no rules on what gifts a private school teacher can accept. 'A new Saab, headmaster?'