Nominations for a competition that will win the “world’s greatest teacher” a $1 million personal fortune opened today.
The organisers, who hope the award will be seen as the equivalent to a “nobel prize of education”, had been unsure whether the money should go to an individual teacher or their school when they first announced the prize in October.
Now they have taken the potentially controversial decision of making an “exceptional teacher” very rich, in the hope it will maximise the impact of a scheme aimed at raising the global prestige of the profession.
“I want to draw attention to the achievements of teachers and the enormous impact they have on all of our lives,” said Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, which is running the award.
“They must be returned to their rightful position as the most respected profession in society, which is properly rewarded and celebrated”.
The winner, who could come from anywhere in the world, will have to agree to remain a teacher for five years to receive the prize, which will be paid out in ten annual installments. They will also receive financial counselling.
An international “academy” of judges including the actor Kevin Spacey; deputy mayor of London Munira Mirza; and Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp; alongside headteachers and other education experts will select the winner from a shortlist of ten candidates.
They will be looking for an innovative teacher with “exceptional results”, who has won respect in their community through activities beyond the classroom. The winner will be expected to be a role model for other teachers through their charity or community work or other cultural achievements and will have encouraged other teachers to join the profession.
"This prize is not just about money,” said Mr Varkey. “It’s about unearthing thousands of stories of courage and inspiration.
“We want to inspire children from far-flung villages, towns and cities around the world to say ‘I want that prize!’ How many kids say they want to be a reality TV star? Let’s get them aiming to be the greatest teacher in the world.”
The winner will also needed to have contributed to public debates about raising teaching standards, to have shared their “inspirational practice”, and to have prepared young people to be ‘global citizens’ comfortable with peers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
A committee including Mr Varkey; TES editor Ann Mroz; former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson; and Karen Giles, head of Barham Primary School, London, will meet in October to decide the shortlist.
The prize has the backing of former US President Bill Clinton, who said: “Attracting the best people to teaching, developing and supporting their skills, and holding our teachers in high regard - all are critically important to achieve excellence, both in teaching and learning.”