A teacher at a Brent secondary school has won the prestigious Global Teacher Prize.
Andria Zafirakou, who works at Alperton Community College, picked up the award worth $1m (£717,000) at a ceremony in Dubai on Sunday.
It is the first time a UK teacher has claimed the award from education charity the Varkey Foundation.
Ms Zafirakou teaches art and textiles, which she says are “powerful subjects that help the students unlock all of their language barriers”.
Children in the area of northwest London where she works face complex challenges – including violent crime and gangs that work to recruit young people on their way home from school, she said.
High levels of deprivation also mean it is common for many families to live in the same house, leaving pupils struggling with stressful home environments and unable to find a quiet place to do homework.
Ms Zafirakou has introduced after-school and weekend support for children to give them a safe place to work, and has also worked with police and students to protect pupils as they are leaving school.
Pupils at Alperton speak 35 different languages, and Ms Zafirakou has worked to learn a few words from many of them so she can communicate better with everyone at the school.
She has also started a boxing club, keeping students off the streets after lessons and helping them build confidence and self-defence skills.
“We have to make sure we are protecting our students at all costs,” she said. “Building relationships with your students is absolutely key.”
Alperton College is now among the top 5% of schools in the country in terms of accreditation and qualifications – a remarkable improvement since Ms Zafirakou started at the school, the Varkey Foundation said.
“My calling in life is to make sure that every single child reaches their full potential. That I unlock that,” Ms Zafirakou said.
“That I make sure, whatever it is that they need to achieve, I make it happen for them.”