A UK PE teacher who has pioneered new ways of teaching sports to visually impaired children at a special needs school in Liverpool has been shortlisted for this year’s prestigious global teacher prize.
David Swanston, a teacher at St Vincent’s school, is in the final 10 out of 8,000 nominations and applications for this year’s $1m (£730,000) award, which is intended to showcase the work teachers do preparing young people for their future. It is funded by the Varkey Foundation and endorsed by Unesco.
He is joined by Elliott Lancaster, a 24-year-old postgraduate student at Keele University, who is shortlisted for the first Chegg.org global student prize, a sister award that rewards exceptional achievements in learning and extracurricular activity, with a $100,000 prize.
Swanston has taught children with visual impairments for more than a decade at St Vincent’s, which is a specialist school for children with sensory impairments. In 2020 he was appointed deputy principal.
Swanston specialises in PE but teaches a range of subjects including geography and art. He pioneered techniques to enable students with visual impairments to participate in sports, since they on average accumulate less than half the recommended 60 minutes of moderate daily activity. Several of his students have gone on to become Paralympians.
His work has included modelling techniques and examples to enable blind students to understand how sports pitches are laid out. He is developing a version of rugby specifically for blind children, which uses textures and electronics to model game play and create ball prototypes.
If he wins the global teacher prize, Swanston plans to use the funds to support physical activity, horticulture and wellbeing programmes at the neighbouring Alder Hey children’s hospital, as well as to develop inclusive and blind ice hockey across the UK. He will also use the funds to support his charity, Sightbox, which aims to improve access to adapted sport for visually impaired students in developing countries.
Lancaster is a postgraduate student at Keele University and a sustainability campaigner. In 2016 he established a social enterprise app in Newcastle-under-Lyme called Utter Rubbish, which updates local residents on recycling policies in their local area. There are now plans to roll out the service in other local councils. He has also set up a network of sustainability volunteers, who lobby for organisations to become carbon neutral.
In his academic work, Elliott has published two award-winning studies looking at interdisciplinary learning and the impact of coronavirus on blended learning.
Sunny Varkey, the founder of the Varkey Foundation, said Swanston and Lancaster’s nominations “highlight the importance of education in tackling the great challenges ahead – from climate change to growing inequality to global pandemics”.
The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, congratulated Swanston and Lancaster on their nominations. He said that after a recent meeting with Lancaster he had been “so impressed by his passion and commitment to issues like sustainability”, and he praised Swanston for his “innovation” and “inspirational work”.
The winners of both prizes will be announced on 10 November in a virtual ceremony hosted at Unesco’s headquarters in Paris.