"Careers advisers are like traffic wardens," says Susan Burke. "No one usually has a good word to say about us. I try to be different."
Burke has spent nearly a decade working in different areas of careers guidance, and is today head of careers for the Merchant Taylors' boys' and girls' schools in Merseyside. She was keen to give pupils at the independent schools as much information as possible about a broad range of careers.
"When I spoke to the pupils about what they wanted to do, they would go for the most obvious careers, the ones they had known people do," she says. "This is true in state schools as well."
Burke also wanted to ensure pupils could access career information at any time they wanted, 24 hours a day. This was partly because the two schools are on separate sites, so she would always be away from at least one of them.
Burke set up a careers portal on the website for Merchant Taylors' Schools. The site (www. merchanttaylors.comkey-informationcareers.html) features information and relevant links for dozens of different industries, separate advice for pupils and parents in Years 9, 10, 11 and the sixth form, as well as information on the labour market.
The site is, Burke stresses, deliberately simple. "If you type 'careers' into Google you will be met, unhelpfully, with 1.3 million search results. Having too much information is just as much of an issue as too little information," she says. "Our role at Merchant Taylors' is to make the information clearer and more logical, so pupils can see what is required to make well-informed choices."
The website is not designed to replace career guidance interviews, she says, but to provide a starting point and encourage pupils to do their own research. Once they are clearer about what interests them, Burke helps them to use more advanced online services, such as the graduate career website Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk).
Merchant Taylors' career portal has been backed by boys' school head David Cook and girls' school head Louise Robinson and is featured on the home pages of the schools' websites.
Tips from the scheme
Tailor a site to your pupils. Burke says that in a different context she might have included lower level apprenticeships, for example, but those simply were not relevant for pupils at the selective Merchant Taylors' Schools.
Don't forget that there are many other ways for careers guidance teams to support pupils on top of advice on specific routes. At Merchant Taylors', pupils have received crash courses in how to "brand" themselves, how to network and how to cold-call potential employers.
Evidence that it works?
The website won a highly commended award for innovative approaches to working with pupils at last year's National Career Awards. The Girls' Schools Association, of which Robinson is now president, is planning to replicate Merchant Taylors' career portal on its popular website for parents, www.mydaughter.co.uk
Approach: A specially tailored school careers website
Leader: Susan Burke, head of careers for the Merchant Taylors' schools
Name: Merchant Taylors' Girls' School
Location: Great Crosby, Merseyside
Type: Selective, independent girls' day school
Age range: 3-18
Inspectors' judgement: "The overall achievements of the pupils are excellent." (Independent Schools Inspectorate, 2011)
Name: Merchant Taylors' School for Boys
Location: Great Crosby, Merseyside
Type: Selective, independent boys' day school
Pupils: About 760
Age range: 7-18
Inspectors' judgement: "A successful school which provides good quality in everything it does" (Independent Schools Inspectorate, 2010).