A Northampton former head teacher said she was "thrilled, humbled and honoured" to receive the OBE in the Queen's New Years Honours list.
Julia Kedwards was one of five headteachers to form The Northampton Primary Academy Trust in 2012 when the Coalition Government launched its academies programme.
Since then, the trust has swelled to take on three more schools with 3,500 children with her as its chief executive.
Ms Kedwards, who was invited to the Queen's annual Garden Party in June, is now due set for another trip to Buckingham Palace after being awarded the OBE in the New Year's Honours list for services to education.
"I am thrilled, humbled and very honoured," the trust chief said.
"But we don't do our jobs to be rewarded in this kind of way. It's a real surprise and a privilege."
Ms Kedwards was the headteacher at Ecton Brook Academy for eight years before helping to form NPAT.
With school funding per pupil in Northamptonshire among the lowest in the country, she and a group of head teachers around the town sought to join forces to protect their finances.
"They were all maintained schools and the direction of travel at that time was that local authority services were reducing and schools were expected to provide more for themselves.
"We found that it would be better to work together rather than alone, educationally and financially."
The trust currently runs primary schools in Abington Vale, East Hunsbury, Ecton Brook, Headlands, Lings, Rectory Farm, Simon de Senlis and Weston Favell.
In April the trust was given the green light to open a new school - the 420-pupil Harlestone Road Primary Academy - which will open in September, 2018.
Through Ms Kedwards' leadership, the partnership has forged links with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Microsoft and Create Development, with the schools specialising in sport, dance, drama, the arts and technology.
But despite having been in the teaching profession for 28 years, Ms Kedwards says she still gets a thrill from the job.
"I love being able to make a difference.
"Working every day with children always brings something new. No two days are the same.
"I still enjoy the variety.
"I love the fact that we are creating the future."