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‘World’s Best Teacher’ Plans to Use $1M Winnings to Bring Artists into Disadvantaged Schools

Award-winning art teacher Andria Zafirakou’s Artists in Residence programme has the support of Jeremy Deller, Michael Craig-Martin and Gavin Turk

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Andria Zafirakou, 2018. Courteasy: Varkey Foundation

A London arts and textiles teacher who recently won a global teaching prize will be donating her winnings to a charity that seeks to get more artists and arts organizations into schools in Britain.

39-year-old secondary school teacher Andria Zafirakou won the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize in March, crowning her ‘world’s best teacher’ for her 13 years of work at Alperton Community school in Brent. Now Zafirakou has launched an ‘Artists in Residence’ programme which hopes to make the process and logistics of getting artists, musicians, dancers and actors into schools much easier. Artists backing the project include Turner Prize winners Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger, and Michael Craig-Martin and Gavin Turk, as well as veteran broadcaster Melvyn Bragg.

‘I can’t imagine any middle-class parents sending their child to a private school that did not have provision for the arts … But children are being denied this because schools are under such pressure,’ Craig-Martin told the Evening Standard.

The charity will act as a middle man between schools and artists and a pilot of the project will involve 30 London schools in disadvantaged communities. The scheme will later expand into the rest of London and the UK. The goal of the non-profit programme will be to connect schools with artists, who will spend time with students and ultimately establish longer-term relationships with them.

Speaking to the Evening Standard Zafirakou said ‘Subjects such as art, music and drama are being squeezed out of the curriculum at a time when they have never been more important. Too often we neglect the power of the arts to transform lives for the better, particularly in the poorest communities.’

Zafirakou’s project launch comes after the UK government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate qualification (Ebacc) which will marginalize arts subjects in secondary schools. The policy makes sciences, English, maths, a language and geography or history compulsory, but not arts subjects. Writing in frieze, eight leading UK artists – Sam Taylor Johnson, Rose Wylie, Ryan Gander, Liliane Lijn, Zarina Bhimji, Liam Gillick, Paul Noble and Rose English – condemned the decision and emphasized why the arts should be open to all children. ‘Culture is the birthright of every child,’ Rose English said.

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