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Doubts raised over PFI dependency as Blair opens Bexley Academy

Foster and Partners' Bexley Business Academy opened last week with an official launch by Tony Blair, as the debate on the government's procurement strategies for school buildings rages on. Bexley is the latest in a serious of city academies from designers including Richard Rogers Partnership, Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects and Aedas. Twelve have opened, a further 25 are at planning stage, with at least 50 in total envisaged within the next four years.

The city academies programme relies on a funding arrangement in which a private entrepreneur or charity raises 20 per cent of costs with the rest put up by central government. It has been hailed by CABE as a demonstration of the government's commitment to design quality.

However, experts have also warned that with the government's continuing reliance on PFI to procure the majority of school buildings around the country, standards were falling far short of those achieved by the city academies. Richard Feilden, CABE commissioner and expert in education buildings, said that while there had been improvements in the process, there were 'a lot of things' still to be got right.

Tony Blair, launching the project, praised Norman Foster for designing 'a school of the future to inspire the next generation'.

The government continued to insist on its commitment to innovative design in education last week, with the opening of Cole Thompson's Classroom of the Future in Telford. The 'new age' classroom is one of a series under construction around the country by architects including Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, Future Systems and Studio E Architects.

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