In this week's column, Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council, looks to the start of the academic year for young people in the town, and also signposts a council service which can help older people learn and develop.

As our younger residents are returning to school, this week feels like a good opportunity to reflect on a few matters relating to education in our town.

There will be many proud parents taking that treasured photo of their little ones starting school for the first time or celebrating the challenge of their child moving up to secondary school. Following exam results last month, there will also be many young people starting further education, commencing apprenticeships, or imminently heading off to university. I wish all of them the very best in their futures.

The options for people moving towards and into their adult lives are myriad, and young people are confronted with far more choices to make than I had even eighteen years ago. We should all be conscious that a plethora of choices can be an intimidating thing, especially when we so often (somewhat erroneously) present these choices as having an almost life-defining quality. I know that Brighter Futures for Children’s Elevate Careers service has been on hand to help many people with finding the right path, but we should all help create a culture that acknowledges that the important choices made aged 16 or 18 don’t set us on some inflexible path in life.

Part of that culture is remembering that learning and education never stops. A great many of us change careers and re-train and re-skill during our working lives (and beyond). In that spirit, I’m proud that Reading boasts an excellent adult and community learning service, New Directions College.

The College, which is run by your Council, delivers a range of learning from entry-level courses to professional qualifications, as well as interview support and confidence-boosting programmes in a range of community settings. It plays a vital role in supporting adults to build their confidence, learn new skills, and take steps towards further education and new employment opportunities.

Reading Chronicle: New Directions College at 330 Northumberland Avenue. Credit: Google MapsNew Directions College at 330 Northumberland Avenue. Credit: Google Maps

They have recently published their 2022-23 course guide with loads on offer, and I’d recommend you check it out. It has so much for people who are looking to improve their skills, move into a new career, learn a language, or even just pick up a new hobby. From ceramics to printmaking, bakery or dressmaking, there is something to suit everyone.

This Council’s ethos is to provide access and opportunities for people from our communities who, for whatever reason, do not always have the same life chances as the rest of us – whether that is due to special educational needs, disabilities or because of where they live. In March this year, I was really pleased to hear the College had secured a grant to deliver a range of specialist learning and skills pathways to employment for adults with special educational needs and disabilities.

I’m also equally delighted that New Directions has recently received a £700,000 boost from the Department of Education, following a Council bid, to provide courses focused on numeracy confidence. This new offer would provide 176 courses to 1,108 learners over three years. Interventions include innovative numeracy skills programmes delivered with employers, courses aimed at care leavers aged 19 or over, and courses for parents wanting to increase their numeracy skills. This initiative sits in that context of the Council working to ensure everybody can share in Reading’s success.