Practice Learning

Our Practice Learning Centres

There is a dynamic and ever growing voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, providing a range of services across many areas of need. Bryson Care has historically provided significant social care services in its own right. Bryson Care has played a key role in contributing to the direct provision and development of social work placements across the voluntary sector.  We have been involved in this since 1915, when as the then Belfast Council for Social Welfare in partnership with Queen’s University, set up the School of Sociology to train and offer placements to social work students, or almoners as they were then known. 


In April 2007, the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) approved Bryson Care as a Designated Practice Learning Provider (DPLP), with conditions in line with the NISCC Standards for Practice Learning for the Degree in Social Work (Revised March 2018).  We actively participate in the wide range of representational, direct teaching and development activities associated with social work training in Northern Ireland.  An essential part of our work is to ensure that professional standards of service are promoted in the voluntary sector. 


We have two practice learning centres; one located in Belfast and one located in Derry-Londonderry.  We are contracted and funded by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council to provide 24 student placements in each academic year.  

Practice Teaching  

The main aspects of our work includes:


  • The strategic development of the Practice Learning Centres as a central tenet for voluntary sector social work education and training
  • The management of the contractual obligations with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council
  • Fulfilling responsibilities associated with the Designated Practice Learning Provider Scheme
  • Adhering to the NISCC Standards for Practice Learning for the Degree in Social Work (Revised March 2018)
  • Continuing to develop strong working partnerships with Associate Providers and other key stakeholders.

We have experienced independent practice teachers who provide professional supervision and support to students during their placements.  Both Practice Learning Centres are regional centres of excellence for practice learning in social work in Northern Ireland, the UK and internationally.


What makes our placements exceptional?


One of Bryson’s core values is to “develop individual potential” and by adopting a consistent adult learning approach we enable students to reach and achieve their full potential in an environment that is both nurturing and supportive. The support we offer goes that extra step.  We take a person-centred approach, focusing on each student’s individual strengths and developmental areas. We aim to build upon those strengths and address their developmental areas to help students become sound and competent practitioners.


Our approach allows us to work with a diverse range of students.  We always adapt to students individual learning needs and we manage any issues that arise throughout student placements.  Our student feedback highlights that students feel supported throughout their placements and that we consistently meet their needs.  Bryson’s vision is to be a leader in creating a just and sustainable society.  We are contributing to the development of the social work workforce in Northern Ireland ensuring that students are fit to practise.

Practice Learning Centre (PLC) Belfast

In Belfast, we currently provide social work placements within some of our own services, for example; across our Bryson Care Family Support Services.

Our Associate Providers currently include:

  •  Women's Aid (Belfast, Lisburn and Mid-Ulster)
  • Mindwise
  • The Alzheimer's Society
  • Homecare Independent Living

The Practice Learning Centre welcomes the opportunity to forge new Associate Provider partnerships within the voluntary and community sectors; please contact Siobhan Wylie to discuss the opportunity for your agency to host a social work student.  

Practice Learning Centre (PLC) Derry-Londonderry

The Practice Learning Centre has been providing quality assured placements across the North West since 1995.  Over the years, we have worked with many voluntary and community agencies to contribute to the professional learning and development of social work students. 


Students placed through the Practice Learning Centre access a range of additional support including; professional development days, bespoke themed support sessions and individual supervision sessions as part of our robust quality assured, award winning practice learning experience.  We continue to work in partnership with a range of Associate Providers across the North and West Region.


Across the Northwest our Associate Providers currently include:

  • Women’s Aid (Fermanagh, Omagh and Mid-Ulster)
  • First Housing Aid and Support Services
  • Include Youth
  • The Simon Community
  • Compass Advocacy Network (CAN)
  • Action for Children
  • Voice Of Young People In Care (VOYPIC)

From 2018, the Practice Learning Centre has developed an innovative international placement partnership with Ulster University hosting students from University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.  In 2018, the Practice Learning Centre welcomed two students from the University of New South Wales and both students completed a 70 day placement. 

The Practice Learning Centre welcomes the opportunity to forge new Associate Provider partnerships within the voluntary and community sectors; please contact Caoimhe Harkin-Mac Dermott to discuss the opportunity for your agency to host a social work student.


We ask each cohort of students to evaluate our service and in 2019:


  • 100% of students felt their learning needs were met
  • 100% of students rated their overall satisfaction with the service as excellent
  • 100% of students felt the level of support from their Practice Teacher was excellent

Further student feedback for 18/19:


  • “My practice teacher has been great, very approachable and supportive.”
  • “The training by Bryson Derry is very informative and relevant to my PLO setting.”
  • “All training is varied and informative.”
  • “My experience with Bryson PLC has been brilliant.  Very supportive and professional.”
  • “I feel very supported in my placement.”
  • “I’m extremely satisfied with my placement and the help and support alongside it.”
  • “I haven’t had an off-site practice teacher before so it was a new experience but it has allowed for great learning and the support has been fantastic.”


Gortfoyle House


(Left to Right) Siobhán Wylie and Caoimhe Harkin MacDermott

Introducing the Practice Learning Centre Managers 


The Practice Learning Centre in Belfast is managed by Siobhan Wylie, Senior Manager, Bryson Care who has been in this post since September 2008.


Since February 2017, Caoimhe Harkin-Mac Dermott has been the Practice Learning Centre Manager in Derry-Londonderry.  Caoimhe has been a qualified social worker for 14 years and she has extensive experience working with children and families in both the statutory and voluntary sector (non-government sectors) across the UK.









Practice Learning Centre Awards/Teaching Conferences

  • In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 we won Ulster University's Short Term Placement Employer of the Year Award 
  • In 2018 and 2019, we won Ulster University's Impact Excellence Award for the Placement Partnership Category.

Our awards success continues to evidence the recognition that we have achieved in terms of being Centres of Excellence. 

We have also been involved in a number of high profile conferences:

  • In 2014, we presented at both the UK wide Practice Learning Conference in Glasgow and the Renowned JSWEC (Journal of Social Work Education Conference) in relation to their model of ‘Doing Relationship – Based Social Work’.  This in turn led to a book being commissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London on the model, which has gone on to be an important text for social work students and practitioners alike.
  • In 2015, we also presented at the Athens Institute for Education and Research.

We continue to work very closely together to share ideas and engender a research and evidenced based approach within our day to day practice learning.  This is borne out by our submissions in partnership with Ulster University being accepted (across the UK and Europe) at a wide variety of conferences within the Practice Learning field, including:

  • In April 2016, we taught and presented at the UK Practice Learning Conference in Belfast.  We discussed our model of practice learning in Northern Ireland with an emphasis on the seamless transition on ‘From the classroom to the Field’.
  • In March 2017, we facilitated teaching to social work students as part of the international teaching days at the Thomas Moore University in Geel Belgium.
  • In September 2018, we presented at the 12th International Conference on Practice Teaching and Field Education in Health and Social Work ‘Innovation in Practice Learning and Field Education’ (UK) 
  • In March 2019, as part of the Thomas Moore University 15th International Days we facilitated teaching with a range of students.  Our teaching focussed on ‘Learning Through Listening; The Narrative Model.’  


We endeavour to provide an excellent service and as such monitor our performance against our Customer Service Standards. We have set targets for achieving these standards and where they fall below we analyse the reasons why and make improvements.

We have specific standards about the quality of our service which are measured through our evaluation. These are:

  • Be polite and treat you with respect.
  • Be open and honest in their approach to working with you.
  • Listen to you.
  • Be reliable, effective and efficient in their dealings with you.
  • Provide a safe and supportive learning environment throughout the life of your placement.
  • Adherence to the NISCC Practice Learning guidelines and Bryson's Data Protection Policy/GDPR policy in relation to confidentiality.

We also have specific standards about the timeliness of our service. These are:

  • Respond to contact messages before the end of the same working day. If message left after 5pm, the Practice Teacher will contact you the next morning.
  • Let you know within 7 working days of taking extended annual leave.
  • Let you know immediately if they are ill and unable to make an appointment or meet a deadline.

PLC Journey Pathway

To facilitate continuous improvement a journey mapping exercise is completed for each cohort of students at the start, middle and end of their placement to assess their satisfaction with the service provided by the Practice Learning Centre on an on-going basis. The Journey Pathway collects essential feedback on the quality of service over the life of the placement. The Pathway evaluates five elements of customer satisfaction, alongside an element unique to Bryson; - having an offsite practice teacher. The six elements addressed are:

  • Service delivery
  • Timeliness
  • Professionalism
  • Information
  • Staff attitude
  • Having an offsite practice teacher

We have a comprehensive set of Customer Service Standards that outline what we will provide to our service users (students) throughout their placement. We review the Customer Service Standards annually to ensure they remain meaningful and relevant and we would welcome any suggestions or recommendations for improvement. If you would like to make a comment on our Customer Service Standards please contact Siobhan Wylie, Senior Manager Social Work & Training or Caoimhe Harkin-Mac Dermott, Practice Learning Centre Manager.  To view our Customer Service Standards see below.

Costs & Eligibility

Social work students undertaking the BSC Degree in Social Work throughout Northern Ireland can avail of placements through Bryson. There is no charge to students for our service. Allocation of practice learning opportunities is managed through its Regional Allocation Group made up of representatives from the Degree in Social Work programme, statutory and voluntary agencies. 

The Social Work Degree in Northern Ireland

We provide twenty-four practice learning opportunities for BSW students on the degree in Social Work, twelve at level two and twelve at level three. At present, a range of qualified practice teachers are responsible for assessing student’s competence via the Practice Learning Centre. The Practice Learning Centre Managers are responsible for the supervision and auditing of independent practice teachers who are sub contracted through the Practice Learning Centres.

We offer a diverse and robust package of student support including a comprehensive 3-day induction covering roles and responsibilities, learning styles, safeguarding awareness and community/ demographic profiling. In addition, there are a range of themed support sessions covering a range of relevant topics to further develop and inform students. There is also an input from statutory agency partners. Information sessions, supervision training and Practice Learning Opportunity (PLO) planning sessions are provided for onsite supervisors and line managers.

We contribute to the training and assessment of year one social work students on the Preparation For Practice Learning Module which is completed prior to going out on placement.  This is in partnership with the degree course providers Ulster University and Queen’s University. This module enables students to professionally develop their practical skills and to be better prepared prior to starting their social work placements.  In partnership with Ulster University and Queen's University, we are involved in the selection and interviewing process for new applicants wishing to study the degree in Social Work.

Professional Training and Development

To continue to future proof the social work profession, we continue to provide a range of support to qualified social workers who work across the voluntary sector.  Some of the support we  provide includes:

 Assessed Year in Employment (AYE) 

We provide professional supervision to qualified social workers who need to complete their Assessed Year in Employment (AYE) for the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC).  We provide AYE support across Northern Ireland.  For further information please contact Siobhan Wylie or Caoimhe Harkin-Mac Dermott.

Additional Support/Roles

For the voluntary sector, we undertake the Practice Assessor role for voluntary sector candidates who are completing the Northern Ireland Practice Teachers Training Programme (NIPTTP).  We also contribute to the teaching on the NIPTTP.  We also represent the voluntary sector regionally on various assessment panels and boards.

Key Contact

Siobhán Wylie (PLC Belfast)

(028) 9032 5835
Practice Learning Centre Manager
2 Rivers Edge
13-15 Ravenhill Road Belfast BT6 8DN

Caoimhe Harkin-MacDermott (PLC L/Derry)

Tel: (028) 7132 1987
Mob: 07803 833382
Practice Learning Centre Manager
Practice Block 1, First Floor
Glendermott Valley Business Park
Tullyally Road, Drumahoe
Derry-Londonderry BT47 3QR
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