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Action planning to support school attendance: using the SPIRAL framework

Currently, we find ourselves in an ‘attendance crisis’ (Children’s commissioner, 2023) with more children than ever feeling unable to attend school due to a variety of reasons.

School attendance 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, our understanding and awareness of young people’s mental health has developed considerably, particularly in relation to school attendance (e.g. Popoola, Sivers, Hooper & Ahad, 2024). 

I have seen first-hand the distress this can cause to young people and their families, and this subsequently became the focus of my own doctoral research. More than ever, the literature and those working within and across schools are calling for earlier and more timely intervention, as well as greater collaboration across services, to provide effective support for those experiencing school attendance difficulties. 

My own research highlighted the importance of child and parents’ views when action planning, and the need for trusting and supportive relationships between home and school. With stretched service capacity, reduced funding and increasing levels of need, however, I also recognise the challenges that professionals and schools face when delivering this individualised support. 

The SPIRAL framework and planning tool

The SPIRAL framework (Sawyer & Collingwood, 2023) provides a set of solution-focused principles that professionals can refer to when designing such support. These are not intended to be viewed in a linear or prescriptive manner, but rather as a guide to those supporting attendance difficulties, through considering what support may already be in place or working well, and where further support is needed.

I’ve created and shared two different version of the action planning tool developed from the framework:

  1. SPIRAL framework with prompts – to get familiar with the framework and types of conversation you might be having
  2. SPIRAL framework blank version – to use during conversations

The SPIRAL acronym stands for:

  • Supporting parents and carers
  • Promoting a sense of belonging
  • Informing and including parents
  • Raising awareness
  • Accessing external professionals
  • Lessons learnt from COVID-19

Supporting Parents and Carers

This principle emphasises the importance of providing emotional and practical support to parents/carers, including through advocacy, assessing and monitoring parental needs and access to professional-led information and support. Parents also shared the importance of structured peer-to-peer support to reduce feelings of isolation and provide containment.

Promoting a Sense of Belonging

Ensuring that children and young people feel included and supported within the school community was paramount, achieved through adopting a relationship-based and person-centred approach. Promoting psychological safety and involving the children and young people with their own action plans, based on their views was also important, as well as moving at their pace.

Informing and Including Parents

This principle highlights the importance of clear communication, information sharing and gathering views when developing trusted relationships with parents. Many parents felt disempowered when navigating the wider system, and appreciated support from school settings to access and support with this.

Raising Awareness

This includes the importance of early intervention, and the knowledge and skills of professionals being essential for this to take place. Access to training, whole-school approaches and effective attendance and ‘risk’ monitoring within schools would allow for attendance difficulties to be understood and supported more swiftly and effectively. 

Accessing External Professionals

Parents shared that access to appropriate professionals (depending on the underlying presenting need) supported effective action plans, although this was only true of those that captured the parent voice and involved the children, young people and family in the process. Acknowledgement of long waiting lists and stretched capacity can prompt discussion of how services can support schools and families whilst they wait for support, and how services can be made more efficient in future.

Lessons Learnt from Covid-19

Support that was implemented to pupils during the covid-19 school closures was discussed as effective, and, for some, essential in promoting reintegration at a later date. Taking an individualised approach and adapting support to include remote and online options may be a way of maintain connections with CYP who feel unable to attend school regularly.

I have begun to apply this framework in the hopes of promoting a considerate, supportive and individual approach to attendance across multiple teams and services. 

The SPIRAL Action Planning Tool

To support this aim, I have developed the ‘SPIRAL Action Planning Tool’, intended for professionals to use both individually and within multi-agency groups. This tool is designed to support practitioners to consider, plan and reflect upon support needed for individual children and families, as well as across wider school systems. 

Using the SPIRAL tool is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Gather pupil and parent/carer voice on attendance, and consult with professionals who may have further involvement or knowledge of the current difficulties.
  2. Plot this information onto the SPIRAL Action Planning Tool under each heading, with an emphasis on what is already in place/ working well at present.
  3. Identify gaps and next steps, through reflective conversations with involved professionals and families – informed by the SPIRAL headings.

I hope that the SPIRAL Action Planning Tool may have its use in a variety of services, including statutory attendance teams, social care, or within schools, as well as within individual EP casework. Initially, use of this framework is likely to require modelling or facilitation from EPs within local authority work. Over time wider professionals can develop confidence and independence with this tool. This may therefore provide a step towards a shared and supportive approach to school attendance, that places young people and their families at the centre going forwards. 

Given the rapid nature of current developments in this field, and the range of interested researchers, practitioners and stakeholders, I anticipate that this tool is one of many that can support such thinking (such as the Applied Trauma Responsive Classroom Observation Schedule), and that future revisions and adaptations will be necessary as it’s use evolves.

However, I hope that this practical application of the SPIRAL framework supports professionals to adhere to solution-focused and research-based principles when action planning, as well as considering parent views at the heart of their practice.

There are two different version of the action planning tool you can access:

  1. SPIRAL framework with prompts – to get familiar with the framework and types of conversation you might be having
  2. SPIRAL framework blank version – to use during conversations


Children’s Commissioner (2023). Tackling the attendance crisis: A service of whole family support practitioners. Accessed via: Tackling the attendance crisis: A service of whole family support practitioners | Children’s Commissioner for England (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)

Popoola, M., Sivers, S., Hooper, R., & Ahad, A. (2024). “School is too much pressure”: Young People’s Views on Mental Health. Research Report. Published online: January 2024. Accessed: CYP_views_on_mental_health_school_is_too_much_pressure__1705304172.pdf – Google Drive

Sawyer, R., & Collingwood, N. (2023). SPIRAL: Parents’ experiences of emotionally-based school non-attendance (EBSNA) informing a framework for successful reintegration. Educational Psychology in Practice, doi: 10.1080/02667363.2023.2285457

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