School inspectors have found the Sir John A. Cumber Primary School has made insufficient progress since it was last evaluated during the 2014-2015 academic year. Their report was issued Wednesday, May 9.

That previous evaluation listed 16 recommendations for improvement, ranging from effectively using student evaluations to plan appropriate lessons, to building English and math skills. The Office of Education Standards inspectors said the school made “satisfactory” progress in addressing seven of those deficiencies, but was “weak” in the remaining nine.

Discipline was cited as a major problem at the school.

“Poor student behaviour and teachers’ ineffective classroom management were common features of the lessons observed in the Year 4 to 6 classes,” the report said.

Perhaps more telling is the response from 46 teachers and staff who were surveyed about various aspects of the school. Fifty percent of those surveyed disagreed that student behavior was good.

“We have a challenge,” Principal Paul Samuels said, addressing the discipline issue. “There’s no getting away from the fact.”

The majority of the problem, he said, is created by two groups of students in Key Stage 2 classes. He said some of those students have significant difficulties in their lives.

Mr. Samuels said he believes he and his leadership team are addressing this and other issues in report, which he said was “in the main, very fair,” and a helpful tool.

The school has had a high turnover rate in personnel in recent years, Mr. Samuels said. He has been at John A. Cumber for 18 months, and his current team of administrators was put in place last August.

“Since August, we’ve really gotten a handle on that and are trying to address some of the issues,” he said. “We had 16 recommendations. Given the challenges we had, to have addressed seven satisfactorily in a short period of time is very good.”

He said he is confident about further improvement.

“I’ve got a really good team around me and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Mr. Samuels said the school was hurt by a large number of absences during the inspection. Five of his 32 teachers, along with three support staff members, were absent on one of the three days of the inspection. Four teachers and either two or three support staff were out the other two days. Non-credentialed staff was filling in in the classrooms.

“We do have staff absences,” he said. “But that many at one time, it was pretty unusual. That may have had an impact.”

The report said, “Staff absence presented a notable challenge to the school and contributed significantly to the inconsistency in the development of students’ skills and knowledge … Activities provided in the absence of the home-room or specialist teacher lacked challenge and were not well matched to the needs of the students in the class.”

Matching student needs and providing appropriate materials for their abilities was cited at several points in the report.

In general, the Key Stage 1 teachers were reported as being more on track in meeting student needs than the Key Stage 2 teachers.

“Progress was too slow in the upper-stage classes,” the report said. “Students’ attainment by the end of the primary years was also weak because too few students achieved at the expected level prior to transfer on to secondary education.”

Math skills were particularly weak.

“Students in the upper stages of the school lacked confidence and accuracy in their mental calculation skills,” inspectors said. “Their knowledge of multiplication facts was poor and they often resolved to written calculation or repeated addition methods to find answers.”

A survey in which 83 parents participated showed that most, 71 percent, felt their children were getting a good education. According to 41 percent, the school is not effectively handling bullying.

Just 67 percent of staff said the school provided a safe environment for students. Nearly two-thirds said parents were not as involved as they should be. And 35 percent said the school did not provide adequate support for students with special needs.

Inspectors said they will do a follow-up assessment within the next six months.

A copy of the full report can be found online at Click on the Publications link under the heading Freedom of Information. Then click on the Office of Education Standards link.

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.