Academy school chain rocked by media scandals to invest up to £1 million on comms

One of Britain's biggest providers of academy schools is set to invest more than £1m in strengthening its comms over the next three years, according to a tender document seen by PRWeek.

Ormiston Academies Trust, which runs 30 schools across the country, is looking for an agency to provide a "cost-effective and efficient supply solution, for reputation, media relations and crisis management, and fundraising support service...suitable for the Trust’s head office and for all Ormiston academies".

PLMR is the incumbent agency but it is not clear whether the public affairs agency will re-tender for the contract.

The decision by Ormiston Academies Trust to put further investment in comms comes after a series of scandals, causing reputational damage to some of its schools in recent years. 

These include two members of staff resigning amid allegations that one sent a sexually explicit photo to the other using the school’s IT network.

The Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, Norfolk, made the headlines in 2015 after it emerged that a teaching assistant had hacked into a pupil’s email account to make a hoax bomb threat in a bid to shut down the school.

There were further media reports of children being banned from classes for having the wrong coloured hair or not having black soles on their shoes

Other stories have focussed on allegations that an Ormiston academy was tipped off about planned Ofsted inspections. 

The new contract, for "Marketing, Media Relations and Crisis Management Services" is worth an estimated £900,000 excluding VAT, and includes helping to prepare "good news stories" and managing crisis communications among the various requirements. 

It is due to start in April and will run for two years with an option to extend by a further year.

The trust was given more than £143m in government funding in 2015, according to its latest available accounts.

PLMR’s track record in promoting academies includes work for the Durand Academy, in south London, where PLMR founder Kevin Craig was on the school’s board of governors between August 2010 and February 2016. 

During this time his company was paid at least £948,000 by the academy. Criticism by the Education Funding Agency of the controversial commercial arrangement resulted in the agency being forced to work on a not-for-profit basis towards the end of 2014. 

PLMR confirmed in February 2015 it would not be bidding for further work at the Durand Academy. Craig resigned from the board of governors in February 2016.

* In a statement to PRWeek, a spokesperson for Ormiston Academies Trust, said:

"OAT is a Trust with a strong reputation, taking on some of the toughest challenges in education.  We support 31 academies across the country and celebrate hundreds of pieces of good news from our schools every year, which are regularly featured in local, regional, trade and national news.  Of course all schools have to deal with issues every once in a while, but they are far outweighed by the positive examples of the work that goes on every day.  From our work supporting students to access the best universities, to our enrichment programme that gives children opportunities that would normally only be the preserve of their more advantaged peers, OAT is determined to be the trust that makes the biggest difference and we are known for the positive impact we are achieving in disadvantaged and coastal communities across the UK. The framework amount cited in the article is the very upper limit of the OJEU procurement.  This is to provide long term flexibility, but we do not anticipate spending this much. The brief, which is being tendered competitively, is to support all of our current schools and those joining with marketing, media management, social media, reputation management, training and fundraising solutions. OAT chooses to outsource elements of professional services support in this way as we are determined that teaching staff are able to stay focused on delivering the highest standards of education to our intake."
* NB: This story has been updated to include a statement from Ormiston Academies Trust, which was received after it was published.

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