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Carmarthenshire school closure plans put on hold… for now

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Proposals to close primary schools in Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau have been put on hold pending the outcome of an extended review of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme.

Cllr Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services, has asked his education team to enhance a review of the programme which is currently underway to ensure it continues to meet the needs of children and communities.

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It means proposals due to be agreed today (Monday 6 December 2021), will not proceed at this time.

The extended review will seek to ensure that the MEP can adapt to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and climate change, which has changed the way people are living and making choices, how the education system has been affected and the rising costs of construction.

Cllr Davies said the review should look at how parents’ choices for their children’s education might change following the last 20 months.

The council has already noticed a shift in parental choice following the most recent annual admission of pupils during the pandemic.

With the construction industry having been hugely affected by the pandemic, with increased demand and rising costs for labour and materials, Cllr Davies said it is important to look at the knock-on effect this could have on the delivery and budgeting for school regeneration projects.

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“We want to be able to factor these considerations in as we review the MEP, to have the time to properly consider how society is changing and how this will affect education services,” he said.

“Across the authority, several other departmental reviews are also underway. It would be prudent to ensure the MEP continues to align with the council’s priorities and objectives, and therefore it makes sense to take the outcome of these reviews into consideration also.

“I am asking officers to do this piece of work for me urgently.”

Speaking to fellow Cabinet members he said: “I hope that you will agree that no decision can be made today without this work taking place. I am asking that Cabinet does not push ahead with proposals for Ysgol Mynyddygarreg and Ysgol Blaenau at this point in time, and I will not be announcing the statutory notice for these schools – we have to give full consideration to these proposals.”

A campaign group set up to prevent the closure of Ysgol Mynyddygarreg said in a statement: “The Community and Governors of Mynyddygarreg are overjoyed with Carmarthenshire Council’s decision not to close Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. The community is passionate about our village and our school.

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“After campaigning for more than a year we are pleased that the Cabinet has listened to our voices and given us certainty for our future, showing the way for councils and communities to work together for better outcomes.

“We are also very supportive of Ysgol Gwenllian and hope that their badly needed new school will be imminent. Looking to the future, the school can now build on its excellent teaching reputation and we look forward to an exciting future for the children, staff and the wider community.”

A petition opposed to the school closure attracted over 1000 signatures.

There are concerns however that the council could restart closure plans after the local authority elections in May.

Leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire Council, Cllr Rob James said: “Fantastic result for both Ysgol Blaenau and Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. Great work by both campaigns to ensure the school are not closed this academic year.

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“We are concerned that the Cabinet will now review the viability of all schools after the local elections. We need to stop the sword of Damocles over schools and worrying pupils and parents over potential closures.

“There are 30 schools with less than 100 pupils in Carmarthenshire, so if you want to ensure that your school is not closed after the elections, consider being a Councillor.”

Whilst the Plaid-led Cabinet agreed to postpone the closures, Cllr Glynog Davies confirmed the council’s commitment to continuing the delivery of a number of projects already in development.

These include a new state of the art specialist school to replace Ysgol Heol Goffa, a new primary school to replace Ysgol Pen-bre, and planned improvements at Ysgol Bryngwyn in Llanelli and Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen.

He said the council will also prioritise plans for a new school to replace Llanelli’s Ysgol Dewi Sant and for new primary schools in Ammanford and Llandeilo.

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(Lead image: Mynyddygarreg SOS)

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Education

Council to review Swansea Valley ‘Super School’ decision made by previous administration

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A reprieve could be on the cards for Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools as Neath Port Talbot’s new coalition administration say they want to review the decision made to create a new ‘super school’ in Pontardawe.

The new administration says it wants to establish if an alternative way to bring 21st Century School standards to the Swansea Valley can be achieved, which would be more acceptable to the community.

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The decision to establish a new £22.7m English-medium 3-11 school and specialist Learning Support Centre for pupils with a statement of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Pontardawe to replace Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools was taken by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet on October 20th, 2021.

The controversial decision triggered a process of communicating with local schools around the next steps and general planning for the construction of the new school and swimming pool.

A successful tender exercise took place to secure a contractor to begin stage one of a two stage process.

Neath Port Talbot Council say that under its own procurement rules, it says it has been necessary to approve the appointment of the contractor to undertake Stage 1 contract works only, with no obligation on the council to proceed to the second stage. Stage 1 includes developing the design information; carrying out assessments of traffic and site conditions; ground investigations; and obtaining planning approval.

The council say that this first stage contract does not commit them to the construction of the school and pool, with a further contract being entered into at Stage 2, which is the actual construction phase. 

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It adds that allowing stage 1 works to progress will ensure that the opportunities to meet the timescales of the October 2021 decision could still be realised if a review does not highlight any changes are needed to the project.

This will avoid further anxiety for the school staff and families due to unnecessary delays, particularly important for those pupils in Godre’rgraig Primary School who are currently educated in temporary accommodation awaiting the new school.

Neath Port Talbot Council say they will now start discussions with Welsh Government Ministers to establish what information they might require from the council. This will inform the consultation process which the council will undertake with stakeholders.

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Museums

Dream role for Egypt Centre’s new head

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A childhood visit to a museum not only triggered Ken Griffin’s lifelong passion for Egyptology, it has also led to him landing his perfect job.

He has just been appointed curator of the Swansea University’s award-winning Egypt Centre and is now in charge of its unique collection of antiquities.

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Belfast-born Dr Griffin says he was captivated by Egyptology after a trip to Ulster Museum when he was six.

“They have a mummy on display called Takabuti, and I used to get my dad to take me there every Sunday. I wanted to know more about the country, and I finally went there on my 16th birthday. That really cemented the idea of doing Egyptology, I was totally obsessed,” he said.

Dr Griffin started volunteering at the museum while he was a first year Egyptology student back in October 2000. After finishing his degree, he went on to become a Saturday workshop assistant while studying for his MA and PhD in Egyptology.

After a spell as a lecturer, he hit the headlines when he discovered a depiction associated with the pharaoh Hatshepsut – one of just five women to have ruled ancient Egypt – on object he had taken out of the storeroom for a handling session.

He said: “This job is fantastic and often there are discoveries every day. We have about 6,000 objects in total, but we only have room for about a third of our collection to be on display. I have seen every object but often you see something you haven’t spotted before; particularly as new technology becomes available.”

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Dr Ken Griffin in the Ulster Museum alongside the mummy Takabuti, the exhibit that triggered his interest in Egyptology. (Image: Swansea University)

Back in 2020, three of the museum’s mummified animals were examined using X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates high-resolution 3D images. The process provided unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives – and deaths – more than 2,000 years ago.

During his time at the museum Dr Griffin has been actively involved in teaching Egyptology through the University’s adult education programme and he is passionate about ensuring the museum’s collection is as accessible as possible.

Next month he will oversee the installation of a new display case which will also create a temporary exhibition space to be used by Swansea University students.

Already a favourite destination for schools, the museum hosts regular workshops and events but when the pandemic forced it to close its doors, Dr Griffin set up virtual courses via zoom.

“We weren’t open to the public at all for 18 months and the gift shop and schools are usually our main source of income. But the online teaching really took off and over the two years we were able to bring in £50,000 of essential funds through that.

“They will definitely continue. Some of the online courses have been attended by 180 people whereas if I held them here it would be a maximum of 15. It has been an unbelievable success.

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“Attendees have come from more than 50 countries in six continents – we haven’t had anyone join us from Antarctica yet!”

Dr Griffin also emphasised the continuation of the museum’s traditional activities, assisted by its band of more than 100 dedicated volunteers, and his desire to get more students, in particular, through its doors.

Another of his long-term aim is for the Centre to twin with a museum in Egypt to exchange ideas and knowledge.

He added: “I first came here as student and I have really been part of the Egypt Centre ever since, it is a very special place. I wake up and look forward to coming to work every single day. It is always exciting.

“It is very rare for a curator of Egyptology post to come up so to get this job really does show that dreams can come true.”

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Lead image: Dr Ken Griffin among exhibits in the storeroom of Swansea University’s Egypt Centre. (Image: Swansea University)

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Arts and Entertainment

Parents warning over ‘Huggy Wuggy’ teddy bear videos that sing of hugging and killing

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Parents are being urged not to let their children watch terrifying TikTok and YouTube videos of killer teddy ‘Huggy Wuggy’

The warning, from SAMHI Suicide Prevention and Awareness Initiative has been echoed by Police forces around the country.

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Looking like a horror version of a Sesame Street puppet, Huggy Wuggy is not aimed at children. He’s a character from an adult online game known as Poppy’s Playtime.

Poppy Playtime was created by MOB Games and is a horror survival game. Huggy Wuggy is one of the main villains and appears as a furry blue monster with razor sharp teeth.

But as the game has becomes a viral hit, the characters have appeared in numerous stand-alone YouTube, Roblox and TikTok videos.

One of the most popular videos features the teddy bear, singing about “hugging and killing” and asks those watching to “take their last breath”.

Police have issued a warning over the character after some kids have been seen recreating the bear’s actions on the playground.

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One line says: “I could hug you here forever, til you breathe your last breath together.”
It continues: “My teeth sharp and ready, in my grasp, yeah they’re deadly”.

The blue bear also invites people to “lean in for a spine-breaking embrace”.

In issuing the warning, the SAMHI Suicide Prevention and Awareness Initiative say: “If your child hasn’t mentioned Huggy Wuggy or Poppy Playtime, don’t name it. You may pique their curiosity which in turn could lead to them searching out the content for themselves on platforms they might have access to.

“If you hear a child in your care mention Huggy Wuggy, pause and remain calm. It could be that they have overheard conversation about in school or online, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have viewed content or have a full understanding of who Huggy Wuggy is.

“Ask them about the content they enjoy watching online, and if anything they’ve seen has ever made them or their friends upset or scared.

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“If they have seen anything upsetting, reassure them that they are safe. It’s important children know they can come and speak to you without fear of judgement. If necessary, ask them to show you the video or game, and follow appropriate reporting procedures if you are concerned.

“If your child is having nightmares or is anxious about something they’ve watched, it’s important to have a conversation about expressing their feelings.”

(Lead image: YouTube)

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