At times, students may behave in a way that could cause physical harm or danger to themselves or others. Incidents of behaviours of concern can result in distress for the students involved, those witnessing the incident, or their parents and staff members.
Interventions to prevent, de-escalate and respond to behaviours that can cause physical harm or danger to self or others can be divided into four categories:
- Prevention and early intervention
- Incident intervention
- Response and recovery
Behaviours of concern
Behaviours are an important form of communication. Without effective and functional methods of communication, concerning behaviour may increase in frequency, duration and intensity as students struggle to communicate their needs. Behaviour occurs within the context of the student’s environment.
Incidents of behaviours of concern may occur following a period of escalating behaviour or may occur without any notice.
Examples of behaviours of concern that can cause physical harm or danger to self or others can include but are not limited to:
- self-injuring behaviour, such as hitting/kicking walls, head-banging
- aggression towards other students or staff, including hitting, biting, kicking, hair pulling
- throwing furniture or other objects at students or staff
- a verbal threat of harm which you reasonably believe a student will immediately enact
- running onto a road or near some other hazard.
Behaviour can often be addressed through low level intervention, proactive instruction and environmental planning. These low level behaviours are in tier 1 in the model below (adapted from the
School Wide Positive Behaviour Support Framework) universal strategies which every student would benefit from belong in this tier. Every student should be receiving tier 1 supports.
As concerning behaviour increases in frequency, severity or complexity, increased intervention or specialist support is required. This could include school psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, medical practitioners or people skilled in functional assessment that form part of a multidisciplinary team and wrap around service.
An individual may be accessing supports from all tiers at once and can also shift between tiers. The notes within each tier are examples of relevant activities.
There is an association between lack of communication skills and behaviours of concern. Students who have difficulty understanding speech, non-verbal/gestural and/or social communication may experience increased confusion, anxiety and frustration. Communication difficulties can inhibit a student’s development of emotional regulation, and their understanding of the feelings of others.
Students can sometimes attempt to communicate their thoughts and feelings and seek to meet their needs in inappropriate ways, such as by using behaviours of concern. These behaviours may be the most adaptive way the student knows how to communicate, or the only way they can communicate when they feel threatened, or under pressure, or where they believe their needs have not been recognised.
Sometimes the behaviour can be associated with a student’s disability. However, it is important to note that a student’s disability by itself does not cause behaviours of concern. In common with students who do not have a disability, the underlying concerns (for example trauma from violence or abuse, communication or sensory difficulties, or understanding of expectations) need to be explored.
When tier 1 universal strategies have not been successful, it's important to examine the reason why it occurs, in order to determine the best strategies to put in place to ensure their needs are met. For example, if the underlying cause of the behaviour is difficulty with understanding or a breakdown in communication, then a speech pathologist might be needed to determine if a communication plan, system or device is required.
If the behaviour is due to difficulties with sensory processing, an occupational therapist might be the best person to work with the student. If the behaviour is a manifestation of trauma or abuse, a psychologist may be needed.
The role of school staff is to:
- develop an understanding of what the student is attempting to communicate
- conduct individual assessment and planning
- engage appropriate allied health professionals when required
- adapt the educational environment to better meet the student’s needs both for understanding and expression
- employ strategies based on assessment to teach the student to:
- meet their needs independently
- communicate their needs more appropriately
- manage situations where their needs cannot be met immediately or in a way they prefer.
- seek assistance from relevant professionals where needed
- implement appropriate behavioural management strategies such as positive behaviour supports
- ensure strategies do not harm the student.
Addressing behaviours of concern
Upon identification that a student has, or is at risk of, behaviours of concern, a school should undertake the following actions.
Consider professional learning/training needs of staff
Staff working closely with at-risk students may need more intensive training in preventing and managing incidents. The regional health, wellbeing and specialist services manager or the inclusion, access and participation manager can help schools to identify an appropriate provider that can meet staff needs and is compliant with Departmental policy, including prohibited physical restraint types. Contact your closest regional office.
Consider modifications to routines or learning environment
The learning environment can play a significant role in maintaining positive behaviours and escalating or de-escalating behaviours of concern leading to physical harm or danger to self or others. Modifying classroom routines, placement of particular students and positioning of furniture in the room may increase engagement and reduce the likelihood of some behaviour.
Targeted intervention and individual intervention (tier 2 and 3)
Targeted intervention is for all students, proactive and positive.
Individual intervention is individualised, specialist assessments.
Make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities
a legal requirement for schools to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities to enable them to participate in their education on the same basis as their peers. Examples of reasonable adjustments will depend on the needs of the individual student, but could include modifications to the curriculum, additional support or changes to the student’s routine or timetable.
If reasonable adjustments are not working, consider the need to move to more intensive or targeted support. We will provide support for school staff in determining if reasonable adjustments are working or not, including developing data sets and examples of incidents to evidence this.
Seek additional information about the student
It's important that schools are aware of the educational and behavioural needs of all students, especially those likely to exhibit behaviours of concern leading to physical harm or danger to self or others. Schools should seek all relevant information about a student’s education and behavioural needs upon enrolment.
Where appropriate, and with the permission of the student/parent/carer, contact could be made with relevant health, community and/or statutory services that are providing support to the student and/or their family to ensure that school strategies are informed by comprehensive information about the student, and are aligned with what other services are doing.
Assess student need and risk
Once the information has been gathered, identify any behavioural issues and support needs.
Convene a student support group (SSG)
student support group will ensure that parents and school staff who work with the student are working in partnership to address behavioural issues. The role of the SSG is to oversee and assist with developing an individual education plan, which will include, when appropriate, a behaviour support plan. This group must meet at least once a term to review plans. Meetings must occur throughout the year, not just at the beginning and the end or when there has been an incident.
Develop a behaviour support plan (BSP)
A BSP is a document designed to assist individual students who have experienced harm, are at risk of harm, have been diagnosed with behaviour disorders, and students who require additional assistance because they display behaviours of concern.
A BSP should be developed or reviewed in concert with parents and relevant professionals (multidisciplinary team where appropriate). Ideally, strategies would be negotiated and be consistent across all settings that the student interacts with.
A BSP should:
- describe the behaviour in a way that can be observed and measured (i.e. objectively, including frequency, duration and severity of the behaviour)
- include any known triggers or situations that make the behaviour more likely to occur (a medical condition, experiencing pain, or a past history of trauma could influence the effectiveness of the triggers, while noise or touch could be actual triggers to the behaviour).
- identify what the student is trying to achieve by engaging in the behaviour, if possible (are they trying to escape from something, or gain something?)
- describe strategies to reduce or remove triggers if possible, decrease exposure to situations that make the behaviour more likely to occur, and give students positive options to meet their needs, and strategies to manage situations they find difficult
- outline what escalation looks like for the student and how people should respond to prevent further escalation.
The BSP should:
- be discussed and developed in partnership with the student support group, including a wellbeing professional, parent/carer and student where appropriate
- provide an opportunity to discuss effective strategies to use to de-escalate situations
- be held at the school and be made available to all school staff working with the student
- be provided to the parent/carer
- be reviewed each semester (or in the event of any major changes in the student’s behaviour or circumstances) and in partnership with the parents/carers and student where possible, through the student support group
- be consistent with any behaviour support plan developed through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or other external professionals to ensure as much as possible that the principle of ‘one plan’ is adhered to.
behaviour support plan templates, guidelines and video tutorials.
After implementing a behaviour support plan, if a pattern of behaviour persists in frequency and severity, consider the need for more thorough assessments, such as a:
- functional behavioural assessment
- and functional analysis
- and determine who is best placed to undertake this task for this specific student.
In all cases the reviews should consider not only the effectiveness of the plan, but also the capacity of school staff to implement it.
Restraint and seclusion cannot be included within a BSP. However, if restraint or seclusion have been used with a student who does not have a plan, one should be developed and implemented that incorporates positive behavioural strategies for that student, including teaching positive behaviours to ensure a focus on future prevention.
If needed, an FBA should be conducted to inform the plan. The long-term goal of BSPs is to develop and implement preventive behavioural interventions, including increasing appropriate positive behaviours that reduce the likelihood that restraint or seclusion will be used with a student in the future.
In behaviour support, planning is not a linear pathway that begins at point ‘a’ and continues on to point ‘b’. It is a cycle of continuous improvement.
Consider eligibility for Program for students with disabilities
The Program for students with disabilities provides supplementary resources to schools to support the education of students with disabilities with high needs.
Conduct a functional behaviour assessment (FBA)
These assessments are provided by trained professionals and provide a systematic way to understand why behaviours are occurring, their triggers and antecedents, and the strategies that may be useful in addressing these. FBAs may involve a range of approaches based upon the student’s individual needs, presentation and context and should include coaching for teachers and staff on how to implement the strategies determined.
“When a client (student) exhibits problem behaviour at a level that is disruptive to the environment or dangerous to the client (student) or others, a functional assessment is warranted.
Functional assessment refers to the overall process of identifying the aspects of the environment that may contribute to the development and continued occurrence of problem behaviour. That is, functional assessment is designed to identify where, when and the likely reasons why, a problem behaviour occurs. Such information is then directly incorporated into the problem behaviour treatment plan in the form of a function-based intervention.
The functional assessment process typically includes multiple sources of information such as interviews with caregivers, structured ratings scales, and collection of direct observation data and consideration of potential medical conditions that may impact problem behaviour.
Direct observation may take the form of assessment of ongoing interactions in the natural environment or the form of a functional analysis.
Functional analysis refers to directly changing environmental events and evaluating the impact of those changes on the level of problem behaviour via direct observation. Functional analyses can be complex and may require higher staffing ratios and more direction by the behaviour analyst.”
Please contact your regional health, wellbeing an specialist services manager or inclusion, access and participation manager for assistance or advice on sourcing an FBA
Additional information is also available from the Department of Health and Human Services:
Conduct an occupational violence risk assessment
Behaviours of concern leading to physical harm or danger to self or others may constitute occupational violence, which is defined by WorkSafe Victoria as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’.
Where a student has a history of behaviours of concern leading to physical harm or danger to self or others, the school should undertake an occupational violence risk assessment to help meet their occupational health and safety obligations. This assessment should be done as early as possible to minimise risk of harm. It could be done at the point of enrolment or prior to enrolment in some cases.
An occupational violence risk assessment checklist is available from
School staff can contact the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Service (operated by Marsh Pty Ltd) for advice on any aspect of workplace health, safety and wellbeing.
Call 1300 074 715 or email:
Roles and expectations for behaviour support provision
Classroom teachers are largely responsible for support provided to children at tier 1, with school leadership teams providing adequate resources to enable this to happen.
When behaviour has been identified as presenting above the threshold for risk and/or severity, supports at tier 2 (targeted intervention) and tier 3 (intensive individual intervention) should start. This should occur with a team around the learner approach or a community based wraparound approach. The student should be at the centre of all behaviour support strategies with shared responsibility for outcomes and support provision.
Read further advice on
promoting positive behaviour and preventing behavioural issues.