Berry Education Umi

Berry Education is an education support service specialising in business functions and governance development for academy trusts.

Director Claire Mitchell opened the doors in September 2020 after seeing a gap in the education support market. She explained: “National government continues to drive forward the academies agenda. It is a complex process for maintained schools to convert to academy status. Our aim to is provide leadership, governance and compliance support through academisation and beyond by establishing partnerships with school leaders to develop the business, governance and compliance functions of becoming an academy.”

As maintained schools apply to become academies and academies join together to develop trusts, they turn to Berry for advice and guidance on legal support, due diligence, finance, TUPE of staff, communications strategies and the myriad of other governance issues involved in conversion.

“School leaders are experts in running a successful school and following academisation they are also required to ensure schools run as a successful business entity,” Claire said. “Berry Education provides a holistic service to do this, using support options ranging from advice, guidance, project management, coaching and mentoring to hands-on reviews, administration support, audits and a diverse range of training and development options.”

With over a decade of experience in the education and skills sector in senior leadership roles managing quality and safeguarding of ESFA funded educational provision, and being a Chair of Governors, Claire is extremely well placed to understand the needs of schools.

What she quickly realised was that she had a strong vision for Berry Education, but needed help in understanding how to get there. A colleague made her aware of the Durham Ambitious Business Start-Ups (DABS) programme run by TEDCO for Business Durham, and then it was full steam ahead.

Claire continued: “I’d always seen Berry using a face-to-face consultancy model, but after what I learned from DABS, it became obvious that this model wasn’t sustainable – which was a huge learning curve for me.

“But it makes complete sense. There are only so many hours during the day, and only so many meetings our team can have – and it’s costly using people as a resource like this, when there are better alternatives. So, we’re now building on our digital offer via a membership service and developing an online management information system to generate revenue and bring investment back into the company.”

Claire said every new company should use the resources offered by DABS:

“The DABS process was really great, very positive, and I know that I wouldn’t have got as far in my business development without it. James at TEDCO signposted me to an incredible amount of useful information so I could hone in on effective business planning, generate investment and make the best use of our resources.”

One added, albeit unexpected, benefit for Claire was having someone to talk to during the COVID-19 pandemic: “When it was just me, it was quite a lonely place to be, and it was wonderful to know James was always ready to chat to and be a sounding board for my ideas.”

Claire says the pandemic has also presented an unforeseen opportunity for schools to embrace digital services such as those offered by Berry Education: “Offering an online membership service and governance management system is something schools are now ready to consider using, and we’ll be right there to provide these services and guide them through it.”

If you are thinking about starting up a business in County Durham or have recently started, visit the DABS website and find out how the team can support you on your journey. 

Amanda Armstrong
Article by Amanda Armstrong
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