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 21 June 2024
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  1. Identify pupils' underlying needs
  2. Consider whether unmet SEN could be a factor 
  3. Investigate whether there's an unmet mental health need
  4. Request a multi-agency assessment for more serious concerns
  5. Use the outcome of assessments to develop a behaviour support plan 

Identify pupils' underlying needs

When a pupil displays challenging behaviour, it's often a result of an unmet underlying need (or needs), such as:

  • Special educational needs (SEN) – even if the pupil is not on your SEN register
  • Mental health needs
  • Issues at home (e.g. bereavement, abuse, neglect, criminal exploitation)
  • Issues within their social group (e.g. being bullied)

You and your staff should take these needs into account when responding to a behaviour incident. This is set out on page 16 of the DfE’s behaviour in schools guidance.

As you'll know, it's much easier to tackle challenging behaviour once you know what need(s) the pupil is communicating via the behaviour. You can then adapt your approach or environment to meet those needs. Read more about how to do this later on in this article. 

Start by encouraging the relevant member of staff, whether that's the

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