Education & Family

Two UK finalists in $1m global teacher prize

Tom Bennett Image copyright Other
Image caption Tom Bennett, who teaches in east London, is shortlisted for the global prize

Two UK teachers are among the finalists in an international competition to find the world's best teacher.

They are shortlisted for a prize of $1m (£640,000) for the most outstanding teacher.

Richard Spencer, of Middlesbrough College, Billingham, and Tom Bennett, of Jo Richardson Community School, Dagenham, east London, are among 50 finalists.

Mr Spencer said it was a "good way of raising the profile of teaching".

The two UK teachers are among finalists from 26 countries, with 16 of the shortlisted teachers coming from the United States. They are competing against teachers from countries including Afghanistan, China, Kenya and Germany.

Raising status

The competition, whose winner will be announce in March, is being run by the Varkey GEMS Foundation, the charitable arm of the Dubai-based GEMS private school chain.

The aim of the Global Teacher Prize is to raise the status of teaching, with the UK finalists chosen by a panel of experts including former Ofsted chief Sir Mike Tomlinson.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Richard Spencer says schools can learn from teachers in other countries

Mr Bennett said the competition was "nothing to do with who is the best teacher in the world" but was a useful way of promoting the value of the teaching profession.

He said this was part of the recognition of teaching as a "major lever for social mobility".

His career has stretched from managing West End of London nightclubs to teaching in East End schools.

As well as teaching philosophy and religion, he is an education blogger, author of books about teaching and lectures at universities in the UK and abroad.

Mr Bennett has been prominent in the promotion of an evidence-based approach to teaching, applying the lessons of research in classroom practice.

His motivation for getting involved in education research was because so much of the theoretical research offered to teachers was of "such poor quality".

Mr Spencer, who studied for a PhD in molecular biology before becoming a teacher, has previously won prizes for his work as a science teacher.

He has also been involved in training science teachers across European countries and said schools are beginning to realise how much they can benefit from swapping ideas with teachers from other countries.

"It's fascinating to see the different styles of teaching. The global aspect is really useful," he said.

The finalists are being judged on criteria including innovation in teaching, providing a role model, contributing to the public debate on education and sharing ideas with other teachers.

'Often undervalued'

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There are millions of teachers worldwide and it's fair to say that none of them are in it for the money.

"What motivates teachers is the transformative power they have in the classroom - the opportunity to change young lives for the better.

"But teachers will also tell you that they're often undervalued. This prize could showcase teaching at its best and show teachers that they are highly valued.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, said: "My hope is that it's the start of a million conversations about the role of teachers - from families around the dinner table and teenagers on social media to education ministries around the world."

Former US president Bill Clinton, who chairs the foundation, said improving standards in school depended on "attracting the best people to teaching, developing and supporting their skills, and holding our teachers in high regard".

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