Alperton Community School art teacher named finalist for million-dollar Global Teacher Prize

Alperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou. Photo by Alperton Community School

Alperton Community School teacher Andria Zafirakou. Photo by Alperton Community School - Credit: Archant

An Alperton Community School art and textiles teacher has been named as a finalist in a million-dollar Global Teacher Prize.

Andria Zafirakou has been selected in the shortlist – announced by billionaire Bill Gates – from a pool of more than 30,000 teachers from 173 countries around the world.

Having joined the Brent school in 2005 as a newly qualified teacher, Andria has grown to now hold a role as class teacher and member of the senior leadership team.

The Varkey Foundation prize was set up to recognise exceptional teachers who make outstanding contributions to the profession and to highlight the important role teachers play in society.

“I found out that I was shortlisted about 15 minutes before a Year 9 parents’ evening,” said Andria. “I nearly fell off my chair, and hearing Mr Gates say my name was mind-blowing.

“The whole experience so far has been amazing. The Alperton community has been incredible in getting behind me. I have had children hugging me in the playground.

“I am a bit out of my comfort zone, but it is amazing for the teaching profession, art and the borough of Brent to be recognised.”

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Andria has been described as “going against the grain”, taking the time to understand student lives beyond school by visiting their homes, riding with them on the bus and sometimes standing at the school gates with police officers to welcome pupils as they arrive at the start of the school day.

She has also learned the basic hello-and-goodbye greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken at her school, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese, to break down the barriers and crucially help in beginning to establish relationships with their parents, many of whom do not speak English.

One of Andria’s greatest innovations was to bring police officers, mental health workers and teachers to the school table to discuss pupils from a 360 degree viewpoint, enabling everyone involved in their lives to work together to help them succeed.

“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,” Andria added.

“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. Others could not participate in extracurricular activities after school because they had to take on parental responsibilities like collecting their brothers and sisters from other schools.

“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.

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

The other nine finalists for the prize are from Turkey, South Africa, Columbia, Philippines, USA, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, and Norway.

All 10 finalists will be invited to Dubai for the award ceremony at the Global Education and Skills Forum on Sunday, March 18, where the winner will be announced live on stage in a red carpet gala event which is beamed around the world.