North London woman wins $1m ‘world’s best teacher’ prize

Andria Zafirakou works in ‘beautifully diverse’ school and often visits pupils at home

 

An art and textiles teacher from an inner-city school in London has won a $1 million prize.

Andria Zafirakou, who works at Alperton Community School in Brent, northwest London, was one of 10 finalists shortlisted for the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

She hailed the power of the arts after being named as the winner of the award, which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession, at a glittering ceremony in Dubai.

Ms Zafirakou will receive $1 million (€813,000) and be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation.

She will be required to remain working as a classroom teacher for at least five years and will be paid the prize money in equal instalments.

In a congratulatory video message, prime minister Theresa May said the prize was a “fitting tribute” for everything Ms Zafirakou had done for her students.

Alperton Community School is in one of the poorest areas of the country and pupils come from a variety of backgrounds.

Ms Zafirakou has learned how to say basic greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken at the school, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese, to help parents feel welcome and included.

She redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it relevant to pupils, helped set up girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative communities and is also known for taking the time to understand students’ lives by visiting their homes and even joining them on the bus.

Ms Zafirakou, who is the first UK teacher to win the award, said: “The community where I teach in Brent is beautifully diverse and indeed is one of the most multicultural communities in the world.”

She said many students live in “challenging circumstances” and have “tough lives”.

“What is amazing, is whatever issues they are having at home, whatever is missing from their life or causing them pain, our school is theirs,” she told the audience.

“I know if our school could open at six o’clock in the morning, there would be a queue of children waiting outside at five o’clock in the morning. That’s how phenomenal they are.”

The ceremony, at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, included a performance by singer Jennifer Hudson and the trophy was delivered on stage by Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton.

The other finalists, drawn from 30,000 entries from 173 countries, were from Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, US, Brazil, Belgium, Australia and Norway. – PA