Two British teachers have been placed on a 50 person shortlist Reuters / Eddie Keogh

Two British teachers have been included in the first ever GEMS Foundation Global Teacher Prize which could see them walk away with $1m (£641,000) if they come out on top.

Richard Spencer from Middlesbrough College and Tom Bennett at the Jo Richardson Community School, Barking and Dagenham, are up for the "Nobel prize" of teaching.

It's something of a rags to riches story for Bennett who was working in Tower Hamlet, one of the poorest boroughs in England, when he was initially nominated for the award.

He originally ran nightclubs in the West End of London but slowly shifted into teaching.

He now delivers annual behaviour lectures at the Institute of Education (part of the University of London) and Swansea University and often heads to the likes of Helsinki, Barcelona, and Boston next year, to hold similar talks.

He has also been personally commended for outstanding teaching in the last two Ofsted inspections.

Spencer is used to winning awards having scooped the Salters Prize for Teaching Chemistry and the STAR Further Education Teacher of the Year award in 2004.

The other 48 nominees are dotted around 25 countries, with 16 of them coming from the USA.

Former President Bill Clinton, honorary chairman of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, said: "Attracting the best people to teaching, developing and supporting their skills, and holding our teachers in high regard — all are critically important to achieve excellence, both in teaching and learning."

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, added: "We introduced the prize this year in order to return teachers to their rightful position as the one of the most respected professions in society.

"The prize is not only about money; it's also about unearthing thousands of stories of inspiration as the many applications prove.

"Of course, more will be needed than the Global Teacher Prize to raise the status of profession worldwide. But my hope is that it's the start of a million conversations about the role of teachers".

Actor Kevin Spacey, who sits on the Global Teacher Prize Academy that chooses the final winner, concluded: "However much we achieve in life, we all began learning the basics from a teacher in a classroom. Those that teach - devoting their talents and time to nurturing the talents of others - deserve to be respected and celebrated"

GEMS Foundation Global Teacher Prize

There were over 5,000 nominations and 1,300 final applications from 127 countries from around the world including the US, UK, Italy, Kenya, Uganda, India, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina Mexico and Jordan, amongst others.

The winner will be announced in March at the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai.