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No bog-standard business

With the motto "no goal is beyond our reach" the Business Academy in Bexley embodies the New Labour approach to education.

Friday is business day, when students work in teams to solve problems, practise setting up companies and play at stocks and shares. A business court, including mini stock exchange and trading floor, are among the facilities at the school.

Wireless internet access and the open-plan environment add to the feeling that this is no "bog-standard" comprehensive. Nor should it be. The school cost pound;31 million and was designed by Norman Foster, one of Britain's leading architects.

The project was funded jointly by the Government - which contributed pound;28m - and private sponsors including Microsoft, Charlton Athletic football club and Bamp;Q.

Property developer David Garrard, who with his wife Maureen, is the school's main sponsor, was knighted in the latest New Year's Honours list for his services to the community. Although the official opening was delayed, the school began operating 12 months ago after the closure of Thamesmead community college.

Thamesmead had been placed in special measures. Only three students gained five or more A*-C grade GCSEs in 2002. In Bexley's first year, the number of students achieving such grades increased by 233 per cent to 20 per cent and exclusions fell from 21 in Thamesmead's last year to just three.

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