Responding to challenging behaviour

When concerns arise about a student’s behaviour, or when a student is displaying chronic patterns of challenging behaviour, a more targeted response is required. This may include both support measures and disciplinary measures.

Successful interventions require:

  • strong staff-student relationships
  • an understanding of the underlying factors influencing behaviour
  • an understanding of the immediate triggers for its occurrence.

For example, issuing a detention might be an appropriate response to a student who is being highly disruptive in a class. The teacher or staff member should also identify the reasons and triggers for the behaviour and address these where possible to reduce future problems.

The type of disciplinary measure used for challenging behaviour will depend on the nature and severity of the incident. For more information on disciplinary measures including processes for suspension and expulsion see: Disciplinary measures

Any decisions made about addressing challenging behaviours should be clearly documented and discussed with the student’s parent or guardian.

A staged response

Where students repeatedly demonstrate challenging behaviour, schools should implement more structured intervention strategies as part of a staged response to address the behaviour. Intervention strategies that should be implemented include:

  • assessing the behaviour, focussing on its influences, triggers and function (ie what purpose it serves). This should involve observation and talking with the student, their family and relevant wellbeing professionals.
  • developing a behaviour support plan and/or individual education plan
  • considering if any environmental changes need to be made, for example changing the classroom set up
  • explicit teaching of replacement behaviours (recognise students will need time to practice these before they become habit)
  • engaging appropriate support services, such as a student welfare coordinator, student support services or community agencies to undertake assessments and/or provide specialist support
  • establishing a student support group to establish the student’s needs and supports required
  • implementing appropriate disciplinary measures that are proportionate to problem behaviours
  • considering alternative learning or behaviour management options such as student development centres or re-engagement programs.

For more information on these and other strategies and supports, including supports tailored for particular groups such as students with disabilities or in out-of-home care, see: Engagement strategies and supports available to schools

Schools should use the staged response checklist as a guide to help them consider, implement and document their responses to incidents of challenging behaviour. For more information, see: Staged response checklist

Roles in responding to challenging behaviour

Teachers are the school staff members who spend the most time with students, therefore support and discipline responses should always involve the classroom teacher.

Where there are ongoing behaviour issues, teachers should work with school leadership and/or school wellbeing staff to get specialist support for the student. For serious behavioural issues where suspension or expulsion is being considered, the principal must be directly involved in decision-making.

The Department offers a blended professional learning program for managing challenging behaviour. The program aims to:

  • enhance understanding of the factors influencing behaviour
  • build skills in promoting positive behaviour
  • build skills in responding to challenging behaviour.

For more information on the program, see: Managing challenging behaviours training

Record keeping

Schools should keep detailed records of instances of challenging behavior and management reponses reported by students, teachers, non-school based staff and the school community.

Records of behaviour incidents should focus on the facts of a situation and not include vague or unsubstantiated claims or value judgements.

The purpose of good record keeping practice is to:

  • allow staff to monitor the behaviour and wellbeing of individual students
  • ensure student behavior is being responded to in a consistent and staged manner
  • monitor the effectiveness of strategies used
  • support principals in their decision-making process concerning suspensions and expulsions.

Schools are required to record suspension and expulsion in CASES21. CASES21 also has a section to record disciplinary action taken and sanctions imposed on a student involved in a behavioural incident.

Learn more about Merit and Discipline Incidents on the Department's intranet
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In addition, the Student Online Case System (SOCS) is a referral and data system for schools to support the case management and service delivery for students referred to student support services. The data provided via SOCS will facilitate more effective interventions and ensure accurate record keeping. For more information on student support services and SOCS, see: Student support services

More serious situations involving violent or dangerous student behaviors may constitute a critical incident, and need to be reported to the Security Services Unit (phone: 03 9589 6266).

Managing extreme behaviours

The Department offers a professional learning program for school leadership teams, teachers and education support officers working with students who display extreme and challenging behaviour associated with a disability.

For more information on this professional learning program, see:

Emergencies and critical incidents

In the event of an incident threatening life or property, schools must contact emergency services by calling 000.

Schools must also immediately report to Security Services Unit (phone: (03) 9603 7999) any incident:

  • posing a risk to the safety of a student, parent, visitor or staff member including:
    • serious injury or death
    • allegations of or actual physical or sexual assaul
  • constituting a threat to property or the environment
  • involving physical restraint or isolation of a student.

For more information on responding to and reporting emergencies and critical incidents, see: Emergencies and critical incidents

For specific information on responding to allegations of student sexual assault, see: Responding to student sexual assault