Chichester headteacher who ‘fell in love’ with school ‘delighted’ with Ofsted report

Headteacher Sophie Clarke. Pictures supplied by Fordwater School
Headteacher Sophie Clarke. Pictures supplied by Fordwater School

“I fell in love with Fordwater – it is a special place.”

These were the words of Sophie Clarke, headteacher at Fordwater School in Chichester, who said she was ‘delighted’ after the school received a positive Ofsted report.

A pupil in a sensory science lesson

A pupil in a sensory science lesson

The school in Summersdale Road, which caters for pupils aged two to 19 with severe and complex learning difficulties, had a short inspection visit from Ofsted on January 16.

It was the first short inspection since the school was judged to be ‘good’ in January 2013, and the first since Ms Clarke has been headteacher.

The Ofsted report, which has since been published, said the school ‘continues to be good’. Ms Clarke was praised in the report for bringing ‘positive changes’.

She said: “Fordwater is a fabulous place to work and a fabulous place for children, it is a special place.

We are all really delighted about the report and it feels that the school is in a very positive place.

Sophie Clarke

“We are all really delighted about the report and it feels that the school is in a very positive place.

“The inspector saw that we offer lots of opportunities for our pupils to be citizens in the community, not making them feel isolated and giving every child the opportunity, and they deserve that.

“We are particularly pleased the report said we create an exceptional warm and nurturing culture and as a result of this our pupils flourish and achieve well. For us, this is the ‘Fordwater feel’ – and we feel this report has really been able to capture and emphasise this.

“For me, as the new head, I don’t want the school to stand still and we have some lovely ideas about how we are going to develop within the community. We want each child to be given the greatest opportunity and our ideas are really exciting. And we want to make sure children are having fun – which is the most important thing.”

Pupils at the school taking part in playground races

Pupils at the school taking part in playground races

The report said Ms Clarke had ‘maintained and built on the good quality of education in the school since the last inspection’ and that she had ensured strengths identified in the last inspection had ‘remained strong’ and ‘continued to improve’.

It added: “Your unshakeable belief that all pupils deserve to be able to take their place in society as active, happy and productive citizens underpins your vision for the school.”

The report also said the school was ‘ambitious’ for further improvement. Ms Clarke said: “We aim to make sure Fordwater continues to be a centre of excellence. We are constantly looking to improve, making sure our development plan is robust and maintaining a good Ofsted report is better than good for us.

“We are really happy and confident for the future, and to me, this is an outstanding report for us.

“The judgement doesn’t seem to be the main focus now and instead it is about the quality. Of course we are heading for an outstanding rating, but we are not focused on this buzzword. It is about the quality for us and we are highly ambitious, I believe we will continue to be outstanding.”

Ms Clarke, who lives in Hampshire, said before Fordwater she had worked in a large residential school supporting young people with a range of needs for ten years, but she wanted the opportunity and challenge to move into local authority provision and to share her skills.

“I felt a great synergy with staff at Fordwater and I wanted to build on this,” she said.

“It has been a great transition and a joy working here. I came in and made some initial changes but nothing drastic was needed as it already offered an excellent provision. I was already in a good place when I started and this is a very fortunate thing.”

The report also shared a parent’s view, who said Fordwater was ‘exceptionally caring and a safe environment’ for their daughter, and added: “We feel very privileged that she [our daughter] is a member of this school community.”

Fordwater School is organised into three departments; primary, secondary and sixth form. The school is supported by speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and a full-time school nurse.

The school ‘prides itself on the diversity of our population, high standards of behaviour and the respect that pupils show to each other’ and aims to make the learning experience ‘fun with a curriculum that meets the specific needs of each individual through a wide range of enriching activities’.

For more information about the school, visit