A sports teacher at a school for children with disabilities and learning difficulties has won a London-wide award for her role in encouraging girls to take up team sports.

Maria Papazoglou of Whitefield School in MacDonald Road, Walthamstow, has been crowned winner of TeamUp’s London Sports Teacher of the Year Awards.

Judges were impressed by Ms Papazoglou’s creativity in developing lesson plans for students which led to an increase in the number of girls signing up for the school’s hockey team.

She also mentored a table cricket team which reached the final of the county championships and showed great ingenuity to adapt games to suit the needs of disabled students.

The adaptations allow the children to slowly develop skills and confidence in sports that previously may not have been possible for them to play.

“I can’t believe it,” said the sports teacher after being presented with her award on Saturday, July 7.

“I already felt like a winner when I found out I was nominated, so to win means a lot.

“I’m fortunate to work with fantastic children who make my job so much fun.

“Our school aims to provide the greatest possible experience for our students and allow them to enjoy and benefit from PE lessons. Playing sport helps improve the girls’ behaviour in school and builds their confidence to new-found heights.

“Sport is so much more than the individual activities played in class; it’s making sure the girls understand the importance of having an active and healthy lifestyle and how best to achieve this.”

Erin Hebblewhite, a teacher at Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone, was among those shortlisted for the awards.

The winner was announced at a ceremony in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Vitality Netball SuperLeague Grand Final on Saturday evening.

The event saw defending champions Wasps Netball beat Loughborough Lightning 55-51.

The inaugural awards run by TeamUp were presented by Great Britain and England hockey players Grace Balsdon, Emily Defroand, Sabbie Heesh and England netball’s Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Jodie Gibson.

Ms Balsdon, 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, said: “Teachers play a vital role in educating and inspiring young girls to live a healthy lifestyle.

“Ensuring sport is fun for all is essential to achieving this.

“Maria is a shining example of the extra mile teachers are willing to go to provide opportunities for girls of all abilities to play and flourish in an active or sporting environment.”

TeamUp is a joint initiative launched in 2016 by the England & Wales Cricket Board, England Hockey and England Netball.

Its goal is to maximise the legacy of three consecutive home women’s World Cups between 2017 and 2019 and ensure that thousands of seven to 13-year-old girls across the country have the chance to play team sports.

It was given a significant boost in May 2017 when Wembley National Stadium Trust committed over £650,000 to it to create additional sports opportunities for female pupils across London.