Dr Beryl Marson talks to Reva Klein. Dr Beryl Marson is chair of governors at Small Heath School in inner city Birmingham, which has recently become a city technology school. It has a 97 per cent Asian intake and was one of the first schools in the country to acquire grant-maintained status. She is also a governor at Mapledene Junior School. Before fully retiring two years ago, Dr Marson was senior clinical medical officer for East Birmingham health authority.
What made you become a governor?
I was co-opted by both schools because of my previous professional association with them. Over the years I became interested and involved in education. As a senior medical officer, I used to examine children when they entered school and when they were leaving - I have now reached the age where I've examined some of their parents.
How did you feel launching your school into the unchartered waters of GMS?
It was rather alarming. We didn't know how we'd get the bums on the seats or how to pay teachers' salaries. The LEA tried to stop local junior schools handing out our prospectuses for secondary places and until the children turned up, we weren't sure how many we'd have. It was a trying time with a lot of hostility from the LEA. But the governors were united all the way.
What do you enjoy most?
Being involved with a school and, in a small way, helping children achieve their potential.
What do you like least?
It can be worrying when you make a senior appointment. It's an interesting process but is quite a responsibility. The governors employ an external adviser out of school funds - we buy in expert advice when we need it.
Where has the most help and support come from?
A lot has been learned on the job. Some of us had been governors before, so had some experience. We had in-house training and some organised through the Grant Maintained Trust.
What is the one thing you would change?
We're aiming to improve things all the time. Our exam results show it: in 1990, only 8 per cent of pupils got five or more A-Cs at GCSE. Now we're up to 20 per cent. We're also trying to improve facilities and struggling to keep a good ethos going in the school when the community environment is a difficult one, with 25 per cent male unemployment. And we're trying to maintain the confidence and motivation in our pupils, most of whom go on to higher education.
What must governors never do?
Interfere with the day-to-day running of the school. The head is like the chief executive of a company. We are there to help determine the strategy, not the tactics.
Is there a power governors have which they shouldn't have?
In theory, I suppose a group of unscrupulous governors could abuse their powers, as could happen in any small business, and give jobs to the boys. But there is no greater potential for danger in GM schools than there exists under local management.
To whom are you answerable and for whom do you speak?
Ultimately, we are answerable to the Secretary of State. But we feel we have a responsibility to the pupils and the community.