Identifying the causes of challenging behaviour

Tackle challenging behaviour by identifying a pupil's underlying needs. Find information on what to consider, the different types of assessment you can use, and using the outcomes of these assessments to develop a behaviour support plan.

Last reviewed on 19 April 2023
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 6461
  1. Consider the pupil's underlying needs
  2. Discuss the behaviour with the pupil and their parents
  3. Investigate whether they have an unmet mental health need
  4. Consider whether unmet SEN could be a factor 
  5. Request a multi-agency assessment for more serious concerns
  6. Use the outcome of assessments to develop a behaviour support plan 

Consider the pupil's underlying needs

If a pupil is displaying challenging behaviour, you'll need to consider whether it's the result of an underlying need (or needs), such as:

  • Special educational needs (SEN)
  • Learning difficulties 
  • Difficulties with communication 
  • Mental health issues
  • Issues at home (e.g. bereavement, abuse, neglect, criminal exploitation)
  • Issues within their social group (e.g. being bullied)

This is set out in paragraph 44 of the DfE’s behaviour in schools guidance.

As you'll know, it's much easier to tackle the challenging behaviour once you know what need the pupil is communicating via the behaviour. To do this, you will need to assess the pupil.

Start by having a discussion with the pupil. Ask them if anything is bothering them at school or at home. Pupils might not want to, or be able to, tell you the source of their behaviour, but it’s important to give them a chance

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