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Foster goes back to school to stop urban education rot

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Foster and Partners is to design two new schools as part of a government drive to stop the educational rot in urban blackspots.

The schools, to be known as city academies, will replace existing secondary schools and teach children finance and business, technical and trade subjects. The first academy will replace Thamesmead Community College on a 13ha site in Bexley, south-east London.

These will be the first British schools designed by the practice since the 1970s, although it designed a vocational school in southern France in 1993, and has worked on university blocks for Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford Universities, and London's Imperial College. A spokeswoman for the practice could not give design details until ministerial clearance had been given, but the scheme is being worked up to RIBA Stage 3.

One of the schools, the Bexley Business Academy, will include conventional classrooms as well as specialist IT spaces, trade-training areas, sports facilities and a sixth-form block. The first phase is due to go on site next year, and to open in late 2002. Phase two is scheduled to start in 2003.

Costs are still being finalised for the 1,400-pupil academy, but are expected to be about £10 million.

The project will eventually include a primary school, a nursery and a creche. David Garrard, chairman of developer Minerva, is sponsoring the project with £2 million. 'It will be the first businesstype school campus for children which includes educational facilities from primary school through to the sixth form, ' he said.

The other Foster design is for City Academy Brent, to be integrated into Willesden High School, which is expected to be finished by 2003 - again at a cost of £10 million. The academy will have 1,200 pupils and will boast strong sports facilities.

A further 11 academies are planned for areas of 'real need', according to a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills. Including new build, refurbishments, or both, they are planned for inner-city areas including Manchester and Middlesbrough.

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