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Abuse allegations: ‘Complaints were ignored’

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Rhydgors

Rhydygors School now: Allegations cover 1976-86.

THE POLICE investigation into allegations of the physical and sexual abuse of children at Rhydygors and Cartref Y Gelli has come as no surprise to those who attended those institutions from 1976 to 1986.

In the period covered by the present investigation, Rhydygors acted as a residential special school intended to provide support to children with behavioural, social and emotional problems drawn from the former Dyfed LEA area. However, one former pupil, who cannot be named, told The Herald that allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the facility were rife over thirty years ago.

The former pupil told The Herald: “This is nothing new. This sort of thing [i.e. both physical and sexual abuse of children] was widely known to take place. Complaints were made at the time, but the way in which Rhydygors was used as a dumping ground for kids like us meant that our stories were ignored as just being made up stories.”

Dyfed Powys Police has released a statement in connection with the most recent investigation, named Operation Almond.

That statement reads: ‘Operation Almond is a Dyfed-Powys Police investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at Rhydygors School in Carmarthen, during the years spanning 1976 to 1986’.

This operation focusses on allegations made in 2000, and also in 2012.

In relation to the 2000 allegations, these were fully investigated at the time and referred to the Crown Prosecution Service; however no criminal proceedings were instigated at that time.

In 2012, further allegations were made, which include a report of abuse at a care home, namely Cartref-y-Gelli in Carmarthen between 1986 and 1990.

It is important to note that all allegations made concern members of staff who no longer work at Rhydygors School, and Cartref-y-Gelli care home has been closed for a number of years.

Following an initial assessment of allegations received in 2012, and following consultation with the CPS, a new criminal investigation commenced with the remit to investigate all allegations made in 2012, and to also encompass previous allegations made.

Under Operation Almond, a dedicated team of specialist investigators has been set-up to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken into the allegations made, and also to ensure that support is provided for the victims who have already been identified, which is currently in excess of 20.

Six people have been arrested as part of the investigation and interviews with other identified suspects are planned in due course. The investigation is on-going.

Dyfed Powys Police are working closely with partner agencies as part of this investigation and the safety, welfare and protection of vulnerable people remain an absolute priority of all the organisations involved.

The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council to provide the following information:

When the council first became aware of the Police Investigation which has led to 6 arrests, thus far;

  • What contact the council has had with the police in relation to both the current investigation and the previous investigation from 2000;
  • Whether the council’s insurers have provided advice to the council in relation to both the ongoing investigation and the 2000 investigation,
  • Whether any other allegations have been made to the council regarding child abuse at either Rhydygors or Cartref Y Gelli independently of the Police investigations detailed above investigations and, if so, whether the council’s insurers were involved in advising the council in relation to those independent allegations
  • The arrests made to date have been announced as being former members of staff at either Rhydygors or Cartref Y Gelli. Are any of those arrested currently employed by Carmarthenshire County Council?

A council statement said: “An investigation is being carried out by Dyfed Powys Police into allegations of abuse by previous members of staff at Rhydygors Special School between 1976 and 1986. The staff members concerned no longer work at Rhydygors School, and have not done so for some considerable time. Carmarthenshire County Council is working closely with Dyfed-Powys Police to fully investigate the allegations. As this is a legal matter, it is not possible to give any further information at this

 

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Education

Commitment to reducing single-use plastics in schools  

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has committed to working with its suppliers to reduce the amount of single use plastic used in schools.

Councillors debated the issue at Full Council, following a motion by Cllr Bill Thomas which called for action to identify ways of moving away from plastic milk bottles in schools.

He said he was aware of children in local schools that want to see change, citing particular examples in Ysgol y Felin and Five Roads School, where eco committee members are demanding action.

He said: “In April last year, Carmarthenshire County Council unanimously passed a motion that included a call for the council to reduce single-use plastics in Council buildings and offices. That motion also called on the council to encourage schools to stop using single-use plastics and to start to use sustainable materials.

“Pupils in schools across our county have taken up this challenge. At the June governors meeting at Ysgol Y Felin, we were told that the school’s Eco Committee had requested non-plastic containers for their milk. When the school contacted the council they were told that the milk contract couldn’t be changed and that they had received no other interest in providing glass bottles.

“To support a campaign to reduce the use of single-use plastic in their school, Five Roads School has created a poster showing pupils drowning in plastic.”

Cllr Thomas was supported by Cllr Glynog Davies, Executive Board Member for Education.

“This underlines our opinion as a council,” he said. “Steps are already in place to reduce single use plastics in our buildings. We are aware of the damage plastic is doing to our environment. I would like to praise the excellent work that’s done in our Eco School Councils, and we are proud that our children are taking such interest in this.”

He added: “The solution is a complicated one, but we as a council can continue to encourage and support our schools as much as possible whilst we evaluate the alternative options, and full financial and environmental benefits. We have to do what we can to protect the environment.”

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Education

Pupil Language Ambassadors’ key role

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EACH year Pupil Language Ambassadors (PLAs) from schools across the ERW region work hard to increase awareness of the skills and opportunities, which come from studying a language amongst their peers. They speak in assemblies and to groups of their peers at school events. Their ambassadorial role is wide and varied and each year they work with their teachers to increase the number of pupils studying language at GCSE.

This year, the focus has been to utilise the skills of language ambassadors to work with primary school children where these committed linguists go into their nearby primaries and speak to key stage 2 pupils about the benefits of learning an additional language. This has helped to fulfil a crucial element of the national and regional priorities as set out in the work of Global Futures, a Welsh Government funded scheme to promote language learning for all.

In addition to their fantastic and creative work and projects, in March these motivated ambassadors attended the annual ERW Pupil Language Ambassador training at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. They met with other ambassadors from across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea to discuss their role and heaR from some inspirational speakers.

The purpose of the day was to help the pupils understand their role, to develop ideas for events they could run in their schools, to take part in language tasters and create a plan of action for supporting language learning in their school and their cluster.

The day began with a fantastic presentation from the Pupil Language Ambassadors from Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Whitland. They spoke to the new PLAs about their achievements last year. They addressed the audience in many languages and set the tone for the day perfectly. The keynote speaker was Rhodri Bendle, Chief Consultant at Snowstyle Travel Company in Austria that specialises in Ski and Snowboarding holidays and tuition. He shared his own story about learning a German and how it has helped him to develop his own business.

Pupils then went into a series of workshops delivered by Routes Cymru, a team of professionals and student language ambassadors from Cardiff University who facilitated idea sharing and discussion about how to set up a language club and other ways of getting the message across about language learning.

Diane Evans, ERW, helped pupils to draw out their knowledge of the role of the ambassador across Wales and internationally. Pupils learned how to get their voices heard and how to make an impact in their time as language ambassadors in their community.

Alex Pickering represented the Goethe Institute at the event speaking with ambassadors about the importance of language in business. Ariane Laumonier, a consultant with the Institut Français ran a brilliant workshop on language and the world of work. Both Ariane and Alex used their own languages to convey the importance of learning a language and the benefits of developing multilingual learners.

Another aim of the day was to build confidence in ambassadors in learning and speaking an additional language. The language taster sessions from staff and postgraduate students at Swansea University all ran tasters that strengthen the priorities across Wales to learn and speak a new language. These were extremely well-received as always, pupils tried out languages that many of them had not learnt before including Polish, Italian, German and Mandarin.

Mererid Hopwood, Professor of Language at University of Wales Trinity Saint David inspired staff and students alike with her talk on the importance of striving for a Multi-lingual society in Wales with children and adults using their newly acquired language at every opportunity.

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Education

Local students shine at skills competition

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KATIE WAITE and Ben Thomas, from Pembrokeshire and Llanelli, have won a gold medal in the photography and coaching final of a national skills competition.

Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.

Katie, 18, who is studying foundation art, competed against 18 other students from across Wales in a photography challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating photography that focused on the theme discovering Wales.

Katie said: “I am over the moon to have won the photography competition.

“’Discovering Wales’ was the theme of the competition and we had to base our photography around the great outdoors, adventure and culture.

“I focused on the cultural aspect of the brief by looking at how the landscape of Wales reflects its culture.

“It was fascinating to see other people’s work at the competition and see how different people can interpret a brief and show their creativity in other aspects.

“I love photography as it can capture a moment in a unique way and shows another way of seeing things.”

Ben, 21, who is studying level two fitness instructing, competed against 17 other students from across Wales in a series of coaching challenges in within one hour. The competitors were tasked with coaching a one on one strength training session, warm up and circuit session.

Ben said: “Competing in the coach competition was a big success for me that has brought me closer to achieving my goal in making a real difference to people.

“Last year I was struggling with both my physical and mental health and turned to fitness. I got a personal trainer, Zak Hearne, who helped me lose three stone in three months which had a hugely positive impact on my mental health.

“Being able to make the same difference with other people is something I want to achieve in the future through personal training.

“For me, it’s all about pushing people to achieve great things and showing people that they can do anything if they put their mind to it and aim high.”

More than 40 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from forensic science and fashion technology to 3D game and food preparation.

Those who are successful may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai, China in 2021.

Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates said: “Skills Competition Wales is such an important event, allowing multi-talented young people the length and breadth of Wales to put their skills to the test, building on their excellence and experiences across various fields with the opportunity to then progress and compete at UK national and international level.

“It’s also an opportunity to show the breadth of talent we have here in Wales and to celebrate the Welsh companies who are nurturing and reaping the rewards of such highly skilled, talented employees. Ensuring Wales has the skills needed for economic success has long been a priority for me personally and for the Welsh Government more broadly and it’s fantastic to see skills acknowledged in this way.

“I would like to say well done to everyone who has competed this year and add my congratulations to Katie and Ben on their brilliant achievement. Best of luck to them in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”

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