In May 2011, a team of three academics from Oxford University (Professor John Furlong, Dr Anna Pendry and Dr Patricie Mertova) was selected to carry out an evaluation of SCoTENS. The team identified a number of key questions to be addressed through their evaluation.
- How well has SCoTENS addressed its mission and objectives during the time of its existence?
- What have been the highlights of its work over the eight-year period?
- Are its mission and objectives still relevant in 2011 in the context of teacher education in Ireland, North and South?
- How is it viewed by its main stakeholders – notably the university education departments, colleges of education, government Departments of Education and other agencies which contribute to its funding?
- How appropriate, effective and sustainable are SCoTENS’ funding, governance and administration arrangements?
- What priorities might be worthy of pursuing for the next 5-10 years?
In order to address these questions, the team employed the following evaluation tools:
- Face-to-face interviews (a 3-day fieldwork visit in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by the two principal evaluators)
- Telephone interviews
- An online survey
- Documentary analysis – website, other publications, minutes and accounts.
Drawing on this evidence, this report is divided in to a number of sections. Section 1, Introduction, describes the background and methodology of the evaluation while Section 2, Aims and Objectives – introduces SCoTENS as an organisation. The following four sections consider each of SCoTENS’ major activities: Section 3, Research Projects; Section 4, Conferences; Section 5, the Website; and Section 6, the Student Exchange Programme. Section 7, considers Future Challenges and Recommendation while Section 8, provides a Conclusion.
Taken over all, the findings of the evaluation are overwhelmingly positive. Despite limited and sometimes precarious funding, significant dependence on the good will of volunteers and the support of a paid secretariat with myriad other responsibilities, SCoTENS has achieved a great deal. For those teacher educators aware of and involved in its work, SCoTENS is highly valued. Many we spoke to believed that the majority of initiatives SCoTENS was involved in would not have happened without its leadership and expert administration. Our evidence makes clear that SCoTENS has enabled the development of networks and encouraged communication and contacts between significant numbers of teacher educators in the North and South of Ireland. Many respondents felt that through SCoTENS they had developed a greater knowledge and understanding of the educational systems and practices across the island of Ireland. The forms of collaboration encouraged by SCoTENS have, we found, stimulated genuine professional and personal development; they have also, many or our respondents believed, contributed to the peace process by helping to normalise relationships within and between the North and the South. There was widespread belief that despite its achievements, without SCoTENS’s continued existence, those achievements would rapidly fade.
Not surprisingly, after eight years of extensive activity, and now operating in a changing political, economic and educational landscape, the evaluation team were able to identify challenges for the future. In Section 7 we discuss a number of them: the ‘reach’ of the organisation; the consistency of the quality of some aspects of its work – particularly the research projects; issues of succession planning; the challenges of future finance. None of these will come as any great surprise to those most involved in SCoTENS, and although each presents a serious issue for to the leadership to address, none should be seen as undermining the very strongly positive findings of our evaluation.