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Q&A with Jonathan James

Formerly a secondary school teacher in England and France, Jonathan is now embarking on a PhD at the IOE. He has also recently co-authored a book based on the findings of his master's dissertation.

What was your route into a PhD, and what made your choose UCL?

I studied European Drama with French at undergraduate level, many years ago. I then did the Comparative Education MA at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) in the year 2015/16. I was initially drawn to UCL by the IOE’s reputation for research in education, and by the modules on offer in the MA.

After completing the MA and returning to work, my MA dissertation supervisor (Dr Jan Germen Janmaat, who is now my current PhD supervisor) suggested I continue to a PhD. I did investigate other options, but I was keen to continue working with Germ.

What are your motivations for pursuing a doctoral degree?

I guess the primary motivation was my interest in the topic, and a desire to take the work I had done in my master’s degree to the next step. Naturally, I would also like the degree to move me forward professionally. The working title of my PhD is 'An investigation into the impact of Islamist terrorism on education policy and practice in England and France'.

So what do you find interesting about your field of study and what inspires you?

I continue to be fascinated by the ways in which teachers in England and France understand concepts such as citizenship and integration, and how they see their role as teachers in diverse contexts. I’ve seen a lot of good practice over the last two years, and I never fail to be inspired by it.  

You've published a book, 'Civil disorder, domestic terrorism and education policy: the context in England and France' (2019), co-authored with Dr Janmaat. How did this project come about, and what do you hope to communicate through it?

The book largely draws on the work from my master’s dissertation, which looked at the impact of civil disorder and domestic terrorism on education policy in England and France in the years since 2001. The central idea is to understand the differences and similarities in the ways that England and France have approached the same challenges.

The thing I’ve most enjoyed is the freedom to pursue the things that interest me most, and to organise my work how I see fit."


You mentioned you spent 12 years working in schools. Can you tell us a bit about your teaching career?

Before beginning the PhD I worked as a teacher in secondary schools in England and France. During that time, I've taught English, French, Citizenship and PSHE and taken on a few different leadership roles. My first leadership role was as head of citizenship and PSHE in a school in south London, and I guess that's the one that's most connected to the topic of my PhD. It's also probably the one I enjoyed the most. 

What will your next ventures be career-wise? Any dreams?

I’m currently doing an internship on the Education Policy Outlook at the OECD. My supervisors and UCL Careers gave me the advice I needed to get this in place. After the PhD, I’d like to continue working in education policy research, either at an international organisation or within a university.

Has there been an element of your degree programme that has impressed you or been particularly valuable? Do you think it is a good investment?

The research training at the IOE and in the rest of UCL has been excellent. I began this process knowing very little about how to conduct primary research, and I feel this has something that I’ve really been supported in developing.

Did you receive any funding to help you achieve your aspirations and what impact has it had on your studies?

I am funded by the UCL Graduate Research Scholarship and I’m not sure I could have done the degree without this support. Aside from the fees and living expenses, the grant to cover research expenses has meant I’ve been able to carry out case studies all over England and France.

Is there anything else you would like to say about your time at the IOE?

I have to give a shout out to my supervisors. Having worked in schools for 12 years, I really value good feedback, supervision and mentoring and both my main and secondary supervisor have been excellent on those fronts.