One of Britain's top teachers has warned against government cuts to further education in the UK.

Richard Spencer, a sixth form teacher from Middlesbrough who made the final 10 in a competition to find the world's best teacher, said that further education is as important as schooling younger children, and called for it to be protected.

"I am very concerned about the cuts to [further education]. I think that [education for children] aged five to 18 in schools has been protected but further education does seem to be outside that ring fence and that is a concern," he said.

Spencer teaches biology at Middlesbrough College and has won awards for teaching in the past, including the Salters Prize for Teaching Chemistry and the STAR Further Education Teacher of the Year award in 2004.

A group of leading education bodies warned in April last year that policymakers in the UK were stripping education of 16-19-year-olds "to the bone". The report – which was authored by a number of prestigious further education associations – said that sixth form funding was 58% of what it was 17 years ago.

In a letter to the then education minister, Michael Gove, they warned that cuts to further education would have "dire consequences".

Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Spencer said that facilities such as Middlesbrough College can help those who may have underachieved at school to turn their lives around.

"Don't cut too fast. Further education is as important as any other stage of education [...] and I think the budget should be protected as much as it can be," he said.

Spencer also said that colleges in the UK were working towards countering extremism in young people. The recent case of three young British women who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State (Isis) has brought the issue of radicalisation to the fore, and former prime minister Tony Blair said yesterday (15 March) that schools and teachers needed to do more to challenge intolerance.

"Middlesbrough College is taking [that] on board and every student will receive advice on this, because it is potentially a problem. The north east has a big immigrant population as well so I think it is important to raise awareness of those types of concerns," he said.

"It doesn't take a massive amount of resources to raise awareness. We have put it into our advantage programme, into existing channels and tutorials to raise that awareness."

Speaking about the competition, which was won by US eighth grade teacher Nancy Atwell last night at a ceremony in Dubai, Spencer said that while his students may be disappointed, he was not.

"I don't think it is the end, I think it is just the beginning of lots of opportunities, particularly with working with the other nine finalists. I've enjoyed every minute," he said.

Since Spencer was shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation-sponsored prize he has appeared in media numerous times and last month met Pope Francis at the Vatican.