A British teacher has won the million-dollar Global Teacher Prize in a glittering ceremony in Dubai.
In the past few minutes, Andria Zafirakou was named as the winner at the end of the Global Education and Skills Conference in Dubai, where she was presented with her prize by Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton and host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah.
Ms Zafirakou used her victory speech to call for more importance to be placed on the importance of the arts, and to describe the students she works with as "phenomenal". She also received a video message of congratulations from prime minister Theresa May, played before the audience of educators from around the world.
After being announced as the winner, Ms Zafirakou said: “The community where I teach in Brent is beautifully diverse and indeed is probably one of the most multi-cultural communities in the world.
“It is also a community where many of our students unfortunately live in deprivation. They have tough lives. They live in crowded homes. They may not eat well because their lunch boxes are empty. Some have been forced to play truant because they share a kitchen with other families and cannot miss their allocated time slot to prepare the family dinner."
She added: "These challenges sound like they come from the pages of a Dickens novel rather than 21st century Britain. Yet, it is amazing that whatever problems they are having at home, whatever is missing in their lives or causing them pain, our school is theirs. I know that if our school could open at 6am, there would be a queue of children wanting to come in at 5am. That is how phenomenal they are."
In an interview with Tes at the event before learning she had won, Ms Zafirakou said that, if money were no object, she would love to open a new specialist school of the arts – covering art, music, drama and other subjects – attached to Alperton Community School in Brent, north-west London, where she has worked for 12 years.
She spoke passionately about the power of the arts to transform lives and helps people “become better human beings”.
After finding out in February that she was on the final shortlist of 10 teachers for the prize, Ms Zafirakou told Tes: "My calling in life is to make sure that every single child reaches their full potential…that whatever it is that they need to achieve, I make it happen for them.”
Her headteacher, Gerard McKenna, said: "She will go the extra mile outside of school, helping students in the streets, on the way home, with the community – whatever she can do to help."
For winning the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, Ms Zafirakou receives a million dollars (about £720,000), which is paid in equal annual instalments over 10 years.
The other nine finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, drawn from 30,000 entries from 173 countries, came from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and the United States.