An arts and textiles teacher from an inner-city school in the UK has won a global teaching prize worth $1million [£712k].
Andria Zafirakou, who works at Alperton Community School in Brent, north-west London, was shortlisted from 30,000 entries in 173 countries. She was shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which is worth £712,170.
Ms Zafirakou, 39, has learnt how to say basic greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken at the school. These include Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese.
She has learnt them to help parents feel welcome and included. She redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers. Additionally, she helped set up girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative communities.
She is also known for taking the time to understand students’ lives by visiting their homes and even joining them on the bus.
Ms Zafirakou said: ‘I know if our school could open at 6am, there would be a queue of children waiting outside at 5am. That’s how phenomenal they are.’
She was ‘overwhelmed’ to win the prize, presented by Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton in Dubai. She will be required to remain as a classroom teacher for at least five years and will receive the money in equal instalments.
In a video message, prime minister Theresa May said: ‘You have shown enormous dedication and creativity in your work.’
Racing driver Lewis Hamilton, Olympic champion Mo Farah were part of the event honouring the north London teacher.
In her acceptance speech, she said schools should be “safe havens” and called for greater recognition for the value of arts subjects in school.
She warned of “deprivation” and “tough lives” where “children may not eat well because their lunch boxes are empty”.
But she said school could make a great positive difference – through creative subjects.
“Too often we neglect this power of the arts to actually transform lives, particularly in the poorest communities.”
The teacher from Alperton Community School has been praised for her work with the local community as well as with pupils.