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Education

Roll-out of free school meals for all to start in September

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Children in Reception class will begin to receive universal primary free school meals from as early as September, the Welsh Government has confirmed.

As part of the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Government say they’re working closely with local authorities to meet the commitment for every primary school pupil to receive a free school meal by 2024.

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The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru say they are committed to implementing the scheme as quickly as possible in response to the rising cost-of-living crisis, and are working with local authorities to ensure the offer is rolled out as quickly as possible. £225m has been committed to secure its delivery over the next three years.

From September, Welsh Government will fund local authorities across Wales to begin rolling out their offer of a free, nutritious school meal, starting with their youngest learners. Most schools in Wales will be ready to commence the roll-out in September to ensure that children across Wales can benefit from the offer as soon as possible.

This will mean that most children in Reception classes will start receiving universal primary free school meals from this September.

By April 2023 the majority of children in Years 1 and 2 will also start receiving free school meals, with local authorities given the flexibility, support and funding to start delivering free school meals to those in Years 1 and 2 earlier than April if they can.

This first year of delivery will focus on building the capacity of schools to deliver this increased offer and will aim to ensure that, by the start of the Summer term, most pupils in Reception and Years 1 and 2 will be able to have a free school meal. Those in older years who are eligible for free school meals won’t be affected by the roll out of the universal scheme.

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The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru say they will continue to work with local authorities on plans to extend the scheme further into the 2023/24 academic year to meet the commitment for all primary school pupils to receive a free school meal by 2024.

Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language said: “No child should ever be at school hungry. Given the pressure so many families are under with the increases in the cost-of-living we are absolutely committed to taking practical measures to support our children and young people.

“Our new programme of universal free school meals for primary children is one of the key ways we are looking to help families. Younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, so we are starting with a decent free school meal for children in Reception from September, with most children in Year 1 and Year 2 also getting free school meals by next April.

“I want to thank our local authorities and schools for working with us so constructively over the past few months to help make this a reality.”

Plaid Cymru Designated Member Siân Gwenllian said: “This is the beginning of the roll-out of a significant intervention that will make a real difference now and in the future – not only in terms of tackling child hunger and child poverty, but to progress our wider goals of local food production and supporting local economies.

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“No child should go hungry and our overriding objective is to reach as many pupils as quickly as possible, especially given the unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. From September thousands of additional children will receive free school meals.

“This ambitious undertaking will be life-changing for many and a significant help to families across the country – showing how by working together we’re delivering for Wales and making a real difference on the ground.”

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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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Science

Welsh insulation company partners with Swansea University to explore capturing carbon emissions

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Brigend-based insulation company ROCKWOOL Ltd. has announced it is partnering with the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University to research the capture of carbon dioxide.

Researchers are aiming to develop new carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technologies that can assist Wales and the UK achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Researchers at ESRI have been working on a process called Pressure Swing Adsorption to separate carbon dioxide from a mixture of gases. To date, this has been shown to work under laboratory conditions and so the next step is to investigate how it works in a real life industrial process.

Over the next 12 months, researchers will be experimenting with different adsorbent materials and operating conditions to determine the most effective method for removing carbon dioxide. Isolating carbon dioxide from a mixed gas stream is an important step in developing opportunities for use or long term storage.

Darryl Matthews, Managing Director of ROCKWOOL Ltd, said: “Alongside ROCKWOOL Ltd.’s membership of the South Wales Industrial Cluster, I am delighted we’re partnering with Swansea University to pilot new technology designed to capture CO2 emissions and are excited about its potential in supporting the drive to Net Zero.”

The demonstration unit is being developed as part of the £11.5m Reducing Industrial Carbon Emissions (RICE) project which has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and is aimed at the deployment of industrial scale demonstrations of new technology.

The carbon capture demonstration unit at Swansea University (Image: Swansea University)

Darryl continued: “Taking these important steps to understand how we can develop CCUS technology further is another important piece of the decarbonisation puzzle for us as a business. The ROCKWOOL Group has long been committed to operating sustainably and in December 2020, ROCKWOOL announced commitments to accelerate the decarbonisation of our business, with specific long-term targets verified and approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.”

Professor Andrew Barron the Principal Investigator of the RICE project summarized the achievement, “with 2050 arriving fast, the time for research is over, it is imperative to get new technology onto industrial sites in order to demonstrate viability. Partners such as ROCKWOOL are vital in achieving this goal.”

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In 2020 the ROCKWOOL Group announced ambitious, science based global decarbonisation targets that have been verified and approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The targets, which supplement existing sustainability goals, amount to an ambitious one third reduction of ROCKWOOL’s lifecycle (Scope 1, 2 and 3) greenhouse gas emissions by 2034 while at the same time continuing the reduce the carbon intensity of production.

These commitments build on ROCKWOOL’s existing status as a net carbon negative company, in that over the lifetime of its use, the building insulation ROCKWOOL sold in 2021 will save 100 times the carbon emitted in its production.

Welsh Government Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “These are the partnerships that will drive a stronger, greener Welsh economy. Putting world class expertise into practice is critical to our journey to net zero and this work means Bridgend will play a leading role in these exciting developments. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support the project through the European Regional Development Fund.”

(Lead image: ROCKWOOL)

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Education

Plans for Neath Port Talbot’s first Welsh medium primary ‘starter school’ to be discussed by new council cabinet

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Plans for Neath Port Talbot’s first ever Welsh medium primary “starter school” at Neath Abbey are to be discussed by the Council’s new Rainbow Coalition Cabinet, who will meet for the first time this week.

The new school is part of the council’s strategy to increase Welsh medium education across the county borough.

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At the meeting on Wednesday (29 June) the Cabinet will be asked to approve moving to the next stage in the council’s plans to establish the new Welsh Medium Starter School in premises previously occupied by Abbey Primary School at St John’s Terrace, Neath Abbey.

If fully approved, the first pupils could move in next year.

The starter school model is used when establishing a new school, gradually allowing the facilities and staff to be used efficiently while the school grows to its full potential.

A consultation exercise regarding the school has already taken place with most people broadly in favour but with some concerns aired over traffic and the age of the school building.

Under the plans, £200,000 would be set aside for refurbishments and improvements including the provision of learning walls and digital equipment ensuring the school can deliver the new curriculum.

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Traffic would be monitored around the site and the school will not be fully occupied on opening but will grow year on year. Full occupancy is not expected until 2029.

Neath Port Talbot’s new rainbow coalition cabinet (Image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

This will be the first cabinet meeting of Neath Port Talbot’s new Plaid-Independent led Council, after the Independent, Plaid Cymru and Dyffryn Independent groups made an agreement to share power.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats and Green Party members will support the coalition via a confidence and supply agreement.

(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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