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15-year anniversary of Ormiston Academies Trust

Tom Rees

Academy trusts come in all shapes and sizes. But none have the unique history of our organisation, Ormiston Academies Trust, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary. In my first year as chief executive, it is humbling to look back at the origin story of Ormiston. As well as saying so much about what is good about our education system, it also provides an important foundation for setting our course for the future.

Ormiston Academies Trust is an example of the commitment that so many individuals have made to state education over the years – teachers, leaders and all those on the front line of education above all of course – but also those who have established academy trusts. Our founder is Peter Murray, whom many outside Ormiston will not have heard of. He does not mind that as he did not set up the trust for public recognition or thanks.

The Ormiston story started with tragedy. Peter founded Ormiston Trust in 1970 in memory of his sister, Fiona Ormiston Murray, who a year earlier, had died in a car crash on her honeymoon. The trust was established as a tribute to Fiona’s evident love for children and in the belief that every child deserves the best chance to thrive.

Peter’s experience in commercial property investment enabled him to grow his original donation of £500 into a financially strong, proactive, grant-making charity. In 1980 he founded Ormiston Families, assisting it to develop its charitable programmes across East Anglia, where he still lives. Then, in 2009, Ormiston Trust sponsored its first academy in Essex, followed by Birmingham Ormiston Academy, before Ormiston Academies Trust was founded that same year after approaching the Department for Education.

This compelling backstory explains our trust’s beliefs, which remain the same today as they were then:

  • A belief that every child can thrive, regardless of their background
  • A belief in working where the challenge is greatest, and to embrace that challenge
  • A belief in education and enrichment, both inside and outside the classroom so that young people can learn and develop in all the ways we want them to
  • A belief in achieving more together through collaboration with others

Guided by these founding principles, Ormiston has grown over the years to become one of the largest academy trusts in England, with more than 35,000 children in 42 schools across the country (predominantly secondary, but primary, alternative provision and special education as well), stretching as you know from Grimsby to the Isle of Wight, from Runcorn to Lowestoft.

The commitment that many of our long-standing teachers, support staff and leaders have shown to their schools and their communities over such a long period, is testament to their integrity.

There is, though, a great deal still to do and like all schools and trusts, we are a work in progress. We will always remain true to Ormiston’s values and our origin story makes us a unique and remarkable place to work. But we are also looking ahead – to how we can make sure all our academies are as good as they can be, and that all our students get the great education we want for them. I will always be relentless in our pursuit of these goals.

That is why we have launched Mission AMT: Achieving More Together. This programme of work is focused on both strengthening our schools here and now, whilst setting out our longer-term strategy, ahead of September this year. We want to develop great teaching every day in every classroom by committed, inspiring and hard-working colleagues, and we want all our students to access an exceptional enrichment offer. We are examining every part of our organisation to ensure it can perform as well as possible, with all our resources aimed at supporting schools to deliver their very best for our students. I’m grateful to the many colleagues who have already fed into this process.

We all face tough challenges in education: the negative legacy of Covid, financial pressures, the number of children and young people experiencing mental ill health, recruitment and retention issues, the quality and quantity of services around schools, and the rise in child poverty.

But I share the same optimism and ambition that so many of us have, and which drove us to work in this wonderful and rewarding school system of ours.

As Ormiston turns 15, we see opportunities, not excuses, and I believe that through commitment, thought and by working together, we will get closer to our vision of a world where every child gets a chance to thrive, regardless of their background.

This sense of moral purpose has always been at the heart of the academies programme. It’s in the founding story of Ormiston, which honours the life of Fiona Ormiston Murray, and it’s at the heart of the work of so many school trusts across the system.

Most importantly, our story is about children who need us to be at our best, and deserve nothing less.

By Tom Rees

Tom joined OAT in September 2023 as Chief Executive Officer. He is responsible for leading the organisation, working closely with the board of trustees and national directors to deliver OAT’s mission and strategy.

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