UK teacher in top 10 for $1m global prize

A London teacher is one of 10 around the world in the running for a $1m (£721,000) prize.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced Andria Zafirakou, of Alperton Community School in northwest London, had made the shortlist for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize on Wednesday.

The nominee for the inspiring teachers’ prize, who works in one of the UK’s poorest and diverse areas, managed to stand out among the 30,000 entries from 173 countries.

Among her many interventions to improve school life has been learning basic greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken among the pupils. Languages include Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese.

Ms Zafirakou said it was about making parents feel welcome and included and said it “helps to break down barriers and enables families to engage more in the school community”.

She added: “If you have somebody who can connect with you and appreciate your background, then that’s special.”

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Image: Bill Gates said great teachers could be ‘the most important factor’ for pupils

The star teacher also helped to set up clubs and societies for pupils and redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it more relevant to her pupils’ lives.

Ms Zafirakou has become well-known for getting to know pupils and understanding their lives – including visiting their homes, taking the bus with them and welcoming them at the school gates.

She said: “By getting pupils to open up about their home lives, I discovered that many of my students come from crowded homes where multiple families share a single property.

“In fact, it’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.

“I also found that some were being forced to play truant to cook meals in the allocated time slot they were permitted to use their shared home kitchen.”

She said some children were not able to participate in extracurricular activities as they had to take on “parental responsibilities” such as collecting siblings from other schools.

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“Discovering all this prompted me to organise additional provision within the school day and often at weekends to help students have the opportunity to progress,” Ms Zafirakou said.

“This included giving them access to a quiet place to do their art work, as well as time to participate in extracurricular activities.”

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Gates paid tribute to all the finalists and said that a great teacher could be “the most important factor” in whether or not a young person receives a good education.

“When you think about what drives progress and improvement in the world, education is like a master switch – one that opens up all sorts of opportunities for individuals and societies,” he said.