Meet the Practice Academy Team

Sophie Gilbert - Head of Service, Learning Academy

I am the Head of Service at Birmingham Childrens Trust Learning Academy. I have over fifteen years’ experience as a social worker and am also a NAAS Accredited Practice Supervisor. I have worked within a number of different social work settings and services, from front line safeguarding teams, to MASH and also specialising in Domestic Abuse Responses.

Later in my career I moved into the Learning and Development of social workers and children’s services staff with my working roles focusing more on Practice Improvement. 

I have a real passion for social work learning and supporting those on their career journey. I thoroughly enjoy seeing newly qualified social workers thriving in their development. I also enjoy delivering training, and try bringing fun into our learning experiences. 

Outside of work, you would find me spending time with my little boy, playing games or attending one of his million extracurricular activities.

Sophie Gilbert
Sirah Ali

Sirah Ali - Interim Academy Manager

My career as a children’s social worker began with Birmingham, as a final year student on placement, 24 years ago! Upon qualifying I worked for several local authorities within the West Midlands in children protection front line services.  I then returned to work for Birmingham in 2003 to specialise in permanency planning and worked within family finding, adoption and fostering services. This work enabled me to develop my knowledge of attachment informed interventions and receive training on Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.

I have welcomed the numerous training and development opportunities made available to me as an experienced worker over the years, and this has led to my interest in practice education and supporting others on their social work journey. I am passionate about the work that we do as social workers to improve the lives of children and families we work with and the transformative impact that good social work intervention can have. This fuels my enthusiasm to support people to join and remain in our profession.

Within the academy I lead on the Practice Educator and Student placements offer. We support Practice Educators whilst they have student’s in placement as well as supporting those who want to progress on to becoming Practice Educators.

My favourite things are spending time with my family and friends, I love being a parent and recently I have become a very proud grandparent.

Gabriella Cox

Gabriella Cox - Senior Practitioner in Education (SPed)

I am one of the Senior Practitioners in Education (SPed) and I also have oversight of the Step Up To Social Work and ASYE programmes. I am fortunate to have qualified as a social worker in 2013 and since then I have worked in social worker, senior social worker, team manager and service manager roles in a few different councils before becoming a SPed in April 2021.

My drive is to help support student social workers and newly qualified social workers to get to grips with the world of children’s social work. I am particularly enjoy supporting learners to get to grips with court work, which I know can seem overwhelming initially and ensuring social workers have the right evidenced based tools to do their work. I am a self described ‘social work nerd’ and hopefully this interest helps support people as they start their career in social work. I am renowned for watching truly awful television in my time off and the occasional bit of cooking. 

Elizabeth Smith - Senior Practitioner in Education (SPed)

Hi, my name is Liz Smith I have been a Social worker for 20 years and have completed a range of roles during this time. I have worked for Birmingham for 5 years and have been working with students and newly qualified Social workers during this time. I am passionate about Practice Education and enjoy supporting people to learn and develop. I am also interested in the following areas of practice, children with disabilities, sexual abuse and Adoption and permanence for children in care.

Outside work I enjoy spending time with my family, and you will often find us out walking and letting our 4 year old run off all his energy!! I enjoy running and like to complete the Park run when I get chance. I also enjoy reading and socialising with friends.

Elizabeth Smith
Sharon Dhamret

Sharon Dhamret - Senior Practitioner in Education (SPed)

Hi, my name is Sharon Dhamret and I am a Senior Practitioner in Education within the Practice Academy. I have been working as a qualified Social Worker for 13+ years and would consider myself to have a wealth of experience and knowledge.

My roles within my career have consisted of working within duty and assessment teams undertaking child in need assessments and child protection investigations. I have experience of working long term with families, within a care management team and I have been part of two Local Authorities who launched their front door service, the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) for all referrals for vulnerable children. I have also worked as a supervising social worker within fostering. I am the lead on Step Up to Social Work Programme within the Practice Academy.

I have always had a passion for wanting to help others, which lead to me choosing social work as a career path. I remember my early experiences as a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) and feel privileged in having this role to support those coming into the profession, ensuring they have the confidence, support, and advice in delivering best practice to those who are most vulnerable.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my children who keep me very busy, as well as spending quality time with family and friends. I enjoy travelling with my family and making memories. 

Natalie Pulfer portrait

Natalie Pulfer - Senior Practitioner in Education (SPed)

Hi there! My role in the team is varied (and because of that variety its exciting!). I set up and run the Student Hub which focuses on the much needed Life Work for children and young people. I also support those aspiring practitioners within the Trust, who would like to be a Practice Educator.

I qualified as a social worker in 2005. Since I qualified I have worked as a social worker, senior social worker, and assistant team manager, across various authorities and Independent Fostering Agency. Since 2012 I have been a Practice Educator, and On-Site Supervisor.  

I have a passion for social work. Seeing the development of students and newly qualified social workers is so rewarding. Especially when they have those breakthrough moments.  I focus on the creativity of social work, and supporting students to be creative in their practice, not just as a student but moving forwards as a practitioner.

In my spare time, I volunteer at an animal rescue. So at the weekend the wellies go on and covered in mud!  

Ruth Kernarne - Senior Practitioner in Education (SPed)

I have been a qualified social worker for over 20 years, spending my early career as a frontline child safeguarding practitioner and then moving into the area of practice education. I am passionate about and dedicated to supporting students to reach their potential within their practice placements and beyond. I’ve undertaken a range of roles in both local authorities and universities, supporting students to maximise their potential as they progress towards qualification.

I am a qualified Stage 2 Practice Educator and assessor, an accredited Practice Supervisor and I also have experience as an ASYE coordinator, teaching, assessing and supporting NQSWs in their first year of qualified practice. My role here at the Trust is lead for social work practice placements, working with a range of regional social work qualifying programmes and coordinating practice placements for students completing their final practice placement.

In my spare time I enjoy country walks, spending time with family and friends and eating out as much as possible.

Ruth Kernarne portrait