Liverpool deputy head among 10 finalists vying for $1m prize as world’s best teacher

The ten finalists have been shortlisted from over 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.

David Swanston with pupils at St Vincent’s School.

A deputy head from Liverpool is in the running to win a $1 million (£720,000) prize for the world’s best teacher.

David Swanston works as Deputy Principal at St Vincent’s School, West Derby, a specialist school for sensory impairment.

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The ‘Top 10 Finalists’ shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize 2021, were selected from over 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.

Mr Swanston, who has been working with children who have visual impairments for over a decade, told LiverpoolWorld: “I’m humbled to be a top 10 finalist for the 2021 Global Teacher Prize.

“To be amongst so many inspiring teachers is really something special - and I’m proud to be part of that.

“Thank you to all the staff and students at St Vincent’s School for their inspirational work - and thank you to the Varkey Foundation for shining the light on teachers and the incredible work that is being done.”

Last year, Mr Swanston was named as a gold winner for excellence in special needs education in the Pearson National Teaching Awards.

Teaching background

Many of Mr Swanston’s students have gone on to participate in further education, employment, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Paralympic Games.

The teacher grew up in Scotland and played ice hockey at Murrayfield, Edinburgh.

He studied secondary physical education at Liverpool John Moores University and taught PE across the Liverpool City Region, before working in special educational needs and disability (SEND) at St Vincent’s School.

David Swanston. Photo: Varkey Foundation

After teaching a range of subjects at St Vincent’s, including geography and art, he took over as the lead for PE, implementing a range of new initiatives.

Children from St Vincent’s worked with cereal company Kellogg’s to help them produce ground-breaking technology on their cereal boxes for the blind and partially sighted which will appear on supermarket shelves in 2022.

What will the prize money be used for?

Mr Swanston said if he wins the Global Teacher Prize he will use the money to boost a project called Sightbox, created by visually impaired children from St Vincent’s School who were concerned with the lack of access to equipment and technology for visually impaired children living in developing countries.

Working with the Liverpool Rotary Club, the pupils at St Vincent’s School worked to fund and create the Sightbox to be shipped to children who were visually impaired like them.

The box contains resources for visually impaired children to use such as sound balls.

David Swanston with children in Ethiopia. Photo: David Swanston

Mr Swanston, who came up with the idea for the box with his students said: “We’ve been running it for about three to four years and it is across 20 countries at the moment including Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, and we’d like to roll it out further.

“I’m very excited and proud to have been shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, amongst so many inspiring teachers. Thank you to all the staff and students at St Vincent’s School, and our wider community who are making such a positive impact.”

The teacher is also working on developing a rugby ball specifically for visually impaired people.

He explained the shortlist will be cut down further to ten nominees in October with the winner due to be announced in Paris in November.

What is the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize?

The charity’s prize is in its seventh year and was launched to recognise exceptional teachers.

To be eligible, teachers must spend at least ten hours per week teaching children face-to-face and plan to remain in the teaching profession for the next five years. The prize is open to teachers in every kind of school and, subject to local laws, in every country in the world.

The winner will be chosen by the Global Teacher Prize Academy made up of headteachers, educational experts, commentators, journalists, public officials, tech entrepreneurs, company directors and scientists from around the world.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “Congratulations to all the Top 10 finalists. Their stories clearly highlight the importance of education in tackling the great challenges ahead – from climate change to growing inequality to global pandemics.

“It is only by prioritising education that we can safeguard all our tomorrows. Education is the key to facing the future with confidence.”

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