Interview with Susan Burke

In this post I’m interviewing Sue Burke. Sue is a Careers Adviser who works at a school in Merseyside. Sue who also runs a very good website and is active in facebook, twitter, pinterest and She is well worth connecting with through any of these technologies.


Tristram: Hello. Who are you?

Sue: My name is Sue and I am a Careers Advisor, I work in a high achieving school in Merseyside. I have been elected on a UK level to represent Career Guidance for young people for the Career Development Institute.


Tristram: So how long have you been involved in careers?

Sue: I have been in careers for over 10 years now! I hate saying this, it seems so long. I have worked in a number of different areas including Widening Participation (helping students go to university). I worked for Aimhigher which had the same remit as well. Then I worked for Connexions with a network of schools. I feel really lucky as I have a thorough understanding of why careers provision is important for all young people. I am now working as Head of Careers in an independent school in Merseyside.

Tristram: What has been the difference in the kind of work that you do now at an independent school and the work that you used to do in Connexions?

Sue: I loved my work in Connexions, it was amazing, but I like the independence and the ability to shape the provision in the school where I currently work. In addition, it was the first school that I had worked in where careers provision was actually deemed important and relevant. Senior Management saw this role as critical and they went against the grain and employed a full time careers adviser rather than, adding it on to an already busy teachers role, which was unusual even for an independent school in some respect.

Tristram: Tell us what sort of things you do in your school?

Sue: My job is really varied and which is why I love it. I can be planning lots of different events over the course of the year, for example Networking breakfasts for my Upper Sixth Students, Joint Careers Fair for Sixth Form and Year 11 across both schools. I organise Employability days in the girls school, get involved in assembly and organize work placements etc.

I also interview students mainly in Year 11 about career ideas so everyone has an opportunity to have a discussion with me at least once. Although you find students will pop back even when they have left the school and are now at university.

I have have a permanent slot for PSHE in Year 10 & 11 and I offer quite a varied programme. We look at blue chip companies offering apprenticeship schemes, prospectus research including UK & overseas universities; we have a look at the Europass CV and the Language passport getting students to see themselves as global employee for the future.

We also run a session on looking at what would be included on a CV, how this has changed in the last 20 years and showing practical sessions for example a student who has recently left and using Linkedin whilst at university and how they are using this tool in a practical way. I work closely with businesses and have developed a number of links to aid me to offer careers working lunches each month. We offer Centigrade & Oasis which assesses students in terms of either university or career choices. I think students sometimes expect the answers to be given to them but really they are the one who are in charge. I like to see myself as a signpost suggesting possible routes and highlighting some dangers along the way!

I also get involved in presentations which I love to do, it is great when you have a year group of students and their parents at the same time, this way you get a chance to influence the influencer. You can organise this at parents evening to a captive audience. I love presenting about ‘How Parents can support their son or daughter to make an informed career choice’

Tristram: What works really well? What are you most excited about?

Sue: I like working with people and seeing their goals take shape. I like to show students how things have changed since their mum and dad went to school and look at the different social media and how it can help you to shape your career for the future for example Linkedin, Facebook & Twitter. I use this to as a tool to disseminate information to students and parents in the UK.

Tristram: So you’ve set up a website. Tell me a bit about that?

Sue: I developed as free resource for schools to use and they can provide a link back to their own site to mine. The website has had some great endorsements you can see this on the site. It provides a comprehensive resource for students from Year 7 to Sixth Form as well as help and support for Careeers Coordinators who may be new to this post.


The reason why I developed the resource is I realized I needed to give something back. Careers has took a huge hit in last couple of years I feel we have a fragmented in service in the UK (and I am not trying to blame the schools) they have been told to provide careers without the money to do so, so I realized this is probably hard to do! So rather than moaning about it, I decided to do something.

Tristram: Who do you want to use the site?

Sue: Key decision makers so anyone really ….

  • Students from Year 7 – Sixth Form.
  • Parents or Guardians who are want to assist their child by exploring factual information.
  • Teachers, as research has shown students will ask their opinions first so this could be a useful tool to explore or to signpost students to.

If you take a look at this page I have tried to make it super easy for schools or colleges to link up their own website to mine and this includes teachers blogs as well by providing a link to the site

In addition to this students, parents, teachers,  your cousin! You can use facebook, pinterest & twitter to keep informed about all things careers and I think this is important. Students need to be exposed to thinking about their future from an early age. I would encourage schools to actively encourage students to use social media and ‘Like’ the page and follow me on Twitter/Pinterest to get the information they need as and when they need it.


Tristram: What is the best thing on the site?

Sue: I’ve not invented the wheel, I took the best things from the web and created a free careers resource for students from year 7 to Sixth Form. The idea being all the information you need is in one place to research so you don’t need to drawl the internet. I realized most students don’t know where to look and this became apparent when I was completing Career Guidance Interviews, if you type the word ‘Careers’ into Google you gain one million results. Sometimes having too much information can be just as much as a problem as too little. So I am hoping I have made it more efficient for students, parents and teachers to find the information they need when they need it.

Tristram: Do you have anything else to tell us?

Sue: I think it really important to recognize although the resource is useful as I discussed in National Careers Show ‘How to provide 24/7 access for careers for your school or college’ the key is to recognise that you need a drip feed approach. You need to be promoting online careers resources in all sorts of ways including:

  • Adding website details into school planner
  • Presenting to a captive audience at parents evenings
  • Using in the Careers Education lesson or making cross-curricula links with ICT
  • Creating a school competition on how to use the website – link with English for example asking students to write to advise.
  • Incorporating it into Assembly for example use website to show 4 minute films clips of people in careers by relating it to a subject choice ideally careers they may not have heard about – but showing students how to find it from the website
  • Incorporating it into career guidance interviews and provide tailored links that are relevant to the students needs.

Tristram: Thanks for that. Best of luck with the site.


What next for careers education in schools?

I’ve published a piece in The Guardian today about careers education.

Once upon a time when a young man or woman set out into the wide world they could seek help from the Careers Service. The Careers Service worked with schools to support career exploration and decision making, but crucially also worked with young people once they left school to aid their transition. It was a public service which was available to all.

Read more…

There is an opportunity to add comments at the bottom of the article. It would be great if people were able to use this as a platform to talk about how current policy is working out in schools at the moment. 

Supporting STEM students into STEM careers: A practical introduction for academics


We have just published a short, practical handbook about integrating career learning into the HE STEM curriculum. The work was funded by the National HE STEM programme and is available for free download.

Hooley, T., Hutchinson, J., & Neary, S. (2012). Supporting STEM students into STEM careers: A practical introduction for academics. Derby: iCeGS, University of Derby.


Careers: The Board Game


Going out with me is just great. I really know how to throw a good party. Hence the other night me and my partner (AKA The  Student Support Manager at the Department of Economics, University of Leicester) found ourselves playing the Careers board game as a Friday night treat.

To be fair she did actually buy me the game, so my insistence on a Friday night busman’s holiday is not as cruel as it might sound.

Apparently devised by a sociologist and first manufactured in 1955 the set that we’ve got was probably produced sometime in the 1960s – thankfully before the politically correct replacement of the glamorous career of “uranium prospecting” with “sports”.


In essence the aim of the game is to achieve the blend of money, happiness and fame that you seek. Despite its 1956 origins the game actually embodies a “boundaryless “conception of career. Individuals are not matched to a career on the basis of their attributes and traits. Rather they enter the free market, making purposeful career building decisions and regularly switching from one career to another. 

The game begins with players thinking about how they want to blend money, happiness and fame and then their own blend guides the strategies that they pursue throughtout the game. Player keep score on their own career scorecard which they keep secret from the other players. 


The game has a very clear message that pragmatic and dynamic career planning is essential if you are going to realise your career aspirations.

One interesting thing is that there are multiple routes into most of the careers in the game. In general education, experience or plain old money will get you into a career that you want to pursue.


I rather enjoyed the game (although I lost!) I’d definately play again.

Would it be good as a part of careers education? Maybe, although it might go on a bit too long. However, the process of thinking about what you want and then pursuing flexible strategies to achieve it probably hammers the right kind of messages.

Anyone fancy a game?

Daddy, when are you going to get a real job?


Ho, ho, ho, the funny things that kids say. They sometimes get things a bit wrong, its funny, but its cute. It makes adults feel clever because they have one over on them.
Cue, my funny kid story…

My six year old daughter turned to me the other day and said, “Daddy, when are you going to get a real job”.

“What?” says I. “I have got a real job. What do you mean?”.

“You know, a real job. Like a teacher or someone who runs something.”

“Well, I do sometimes teach and I even sort of run something.”

[Sceptical face from child]

“OK” I say, planning to get to the bottom of this. “What is a proper job?”

“You know, like a teacher”

“Yes, OK, but what else? What should I do to get a real job?”

“Well you could work there” [points at the red and white sign of “In and Out Chicken”]

“Sorry – so my job at the University isn’t real, but if I worked at In and Out Chicken it would be a real job.”

[Her reluctant nod leads me to think that she probably thinks that I’m unemployable in anything approaching a “real job”.]

Taking a different tack I try and move into teacher mode.

“I think what you mean is that you can’t really imagine what I do, because you’ve never seen it. You know about schools and take away chicken shops [note – I hardly ever feed my children from take away chicken shops] but you don’t really know about universities. A university is like a school really, but for older people, it is a place where you learn.”

[More sceptical looks] followed by a memory.

“A__’s dad works in a university. He’s a historian. That’s a proper job.”

“Hold on a minute, how can being a historian be a proper job. I do basically the same as a historian except I look at people who aren’t dead. That’s it, I’m basically a historian of the present – a presentorian!”

By this point my daughter has spotted that I’m talking nonsense and lost interest in the subject.

So what does this prove? Possibly that no matter what your Dad does he’ll always be mainly your Dad and his working life will seem unreal and distant. Possibly that I’m not very good at articulating the joy of careers research to an unsuspecting six year old. Possibly that children are so insulated from the world of work to that they can’t even imagine it and are left with only the roles that they encounter by chance in their day-to-day lives.

I remember reading some study when I was doing a year of undergraduate psychology which talked about how children would ape the behaviour of their parents in play. But, when the men (it was an old study) left the home to work the children would just go and stand around the other side of the house and wait before coming back. From memory we were taught about this in the context of child development and gender roles. But, given that my child now wants me to work in In and Out Chicken I think that its implications might be more about our societies failure to provide young people with insights into the nature of work.

It seems to me that for children to understand something about what the adults in their lives fill their days doing could only be a good thing. I guess that as parents we have responsibility for this, but it would be nice if schools also saw themselves as having a role in this.  Career education with young children has always been controversial but it seems to me that it is just a part of children’s exploration of the world and their understanding of their place within it.

Anyone for a chicken bucket?

A career development framework for schools

I’ve been reading OECD (2003). Career guidance new ways forward. In it I found a very clear statement of how schools should approach the delivery of careers work. This basically sets out what I believe and I think it is still something that is possible in the context of the UK despite all of the changes. So schools might want to keep this in mind as they think through their approach.

“If career guidance is both to develop important skills for life and work and to assist with immediate decisions, there are significant implications for schools.

  • First, they must adopt a learning-centred approach, over and above an information and advice approach. This means building career education into the curriculum.
  • Second, schools must take a developmental approach, tailoring the content of career education and guidance to the developmental stages that students find themselves in, and including career education classes and experiences throughout schooling, not just at one point.
  • Third, schools need to adopt a more student-centred approach through, for example, incorporating, learning from and reflecting upon experience, self-directed learning methods, and learning from significant others, such as employers, parents, alumni and older students.
  • Fourth they must incorporate a universal approach, with career education and guidance forming part of the education of all students, not just those in particular types of school or programme.”

The education bill moves through the Lords

After all of the lobbying that has been going on I think that I’d convinced myself that the House of Lords debate on Monday was a serious last chance to influence the government’s policy on careers work in schools. However, as it turned out the amendments that were put came to nothing and the Bill will go through without further amendment. What this means is that schools have picked up new responsibilities around careers with no help or funding. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog I can’t see how this is anything but a backwards step and a move that will fail all young people, but those without serious financial and family resources most.

The one concession that was made by Lord Hill was that he would issue statutory guidance to schools. Exactly the form that this guidance will take and how seriously schools will take it is yet to be seen. What is clear is that it will be “light-touch” which essentially means short, lacking in detail and free of any strong committment. Lord Hill did say that it will emphasise the importance of securing face-to-face careers guidance “where it is the most suitable support, in particular for disadvantaged children and those who have special needs or are learners with learning difficulties and disabilities”. Which is ironic given that much of the criticism that was levelled at Connexions was that it focused too much on these kinds of disadvantaged young people and neglected the career education of more mainstream young people.

The other thing that the guidance is supposed to do is to sharpen up the various statements that have been made around what schools are supposed to buy and how they will know it is any good. This is welcome, but is rather more complex than this might suggest. Is it about schools buying a qualified practitioner, a quality assured service or actually delivering quality provision to their students. These are actually all different things and the approach that is taken to assuring quality is likely to determine what becomes a proxy for quality. For my money it would be some kind of judgement about the experience that the students are gaining rather than just slimming down the list of people that they are allowed to buy it from. My guess would be that the guidance leaves this vague to avoid having to really tackle this kind of difficult political issue.

The future of careers work in schools is looking dicey. Where do people think the room for manoeuvre is?