Richard Spencer and Pop
Global teacher prize finalist Richard Spencer meets the PopeVarkey Foundation

Education charity the Varkey Foundation has urged UK teachers to apply for its Global Teacher Prize, which could win them $1m (£650m, €904.5m), as it opens nominations.

The teacher prize, seen as the "Nobel Prize for teachers", is awarded to recognise exceptional teachers who go the extra mile for students and contribute to the profession as a whole.

A total of 500 teachers made it through to the nominations last year, but out of the 1,200 who actually applied, only 23 came from UK teachers, while 174 US teachers and 193 Indian teachers applied.

Last year's top 10 finalist and Middlesbrough teacher Richard Spencer said UK teachers should not be afraid to apply.

"Don't worry too much about meeting all the criteria," Spencer advised. "What I found from the final 10 was that we were all very different. There's not one particular type that they are looking for and we contributed to our students in very different ways."

Spencer said the award is important to raise awareness of the profession and the role of teachers in society. "It's about raising the profile of the importance of teaching and celebrating the profession," he said. "It is not only about celebrating the contribution to teaching but the contribution teachers make to their wider communities."

Last year, US teacher Nancie Atwell won the $1m award.

Teachers can nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else as long as they are currently teaching children between the ages of five to 18 or are in compulsory schooling. Teachers from all over the world can apply in multiple languages.

Supporters of the teaching prize include secretary-general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, multi-billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates and Prime Minister David Cameron.

"I applaud the launch of the Global Teacher Prize, which recognises [teachers'] worth," Ban said. "Teachers are entrusted with nurturing the potential of the young and helping them blossom as productive and responsible members of society."

The Varkey Foundation opened the nominations on Friday (29 May) and also published a letter urging governments to stop blaming problems in society on teachers.

The letter, published on Friday (29 May) by the charity and leadership alliance Club de Madrid, said governments should be more aware of the importance of teachers in society and should respect the profession and the individuals.

Over 25 former world leader signed the letter that said that teachers "are blamed for everything from a decline in manners among young people to a lack of basic skills in the workplace."

"Too often politicians see teachers as an easy target for short-term political gain," the letter read.