What schools and further education settings can do

Guidance and support for schools and settings working with pupils displaying challenging behaviours.

If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.

Although the suggestions on this page are broadly split into primary and secondary age groups, the majority of the advice can be applicable for all ages. All children and young people are different, and it’s important to understand the needs of the individual child and young person when looking for ways to support their mental health and wellbeing.

What primary schools can do

Intervene early

Schools should take a preventative and early intervention approach to supporting good behaviour. The Education Endowment Foundation has produced an example of an effective strategyfor improving behaviour.

Try to understand underlying difficulties

Consider using tools such as the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaireto better understand underlying difficulties. This will tell you how severe a child’s difficulties might be, and can help determine whether a child needs a referral for further assessment by mental health or specialists in working with children with additional needs. You can use this tool in partnership with parents and carers as a joint problem-solving exercise. Any child at risk of being excluded should be screened to understand any hidden difficulties or special educational needs. 

Involve parents/carers

Explore with the pupil and their parents or carers whether behavioural problems may be linked to the child’s wider environment (e.g. friends, family, the area they live in or school life). Help children get extra support through school and community counselling or child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Involve your ASN/SEN/ALN co-ordinator if needed

Where behaviour appears related to learning difficulties or disabilities, work with the additional needs co-ordinator and parents and carers to investigate further and to develop classroom management strategies and adjustments to the learning environment and process.

Offer support to families

Help parents to link up with support programmes which can provide parents with strategies to support their child. Parenting strategies are often the most effective in helping children make progress when children are stuck in patterns of challenging behaviour.

What secondary schools and further education settings can do

Try to understand underlying difficulties

It’s important that schools and settings understand that challenging behaviours are a way for a young person to communicate how they are feeling. With that in mind, staff can then work with the young person to explore how they are feeling emotionally when challenging behaviours occur. Tools like the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire can be helpful here.

Co-develop alternative behaviour options

Work with students to co-develop alternative behaviour options. The 5 Ps is one example of a model which may help with this. You can also work with the young person to identify protective factors that may help them, and trusted adults in the school who they can turn to in times of distress.

Involve parents/carers

Explore with the student and their parents or carers whether behavioural problems may be linked to their wider environment (e.g. friends, family, the area they live in or school life). Help students get extra support through school and community counselling or child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Refer to external services where needed

In teenagers, challenging behaviour may present as risk-taking behaviours, for example substance abuse. Where specific needs like this occur, schools should refer to external services for support.

Find out more

Concerned about a child or young person?

If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child or young person is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

Related resources

Filter by:
RSHE lessons for Key Stage 4: healthy and unhealthy coping strategies
Secondary

RSHE lessons for Key Stage 4: healthy and unhealthy coping strategies

These comprehensive lesson plans from the PSHE Association explores healthy vs unhealthy coping...

View resource
Severe behavioural problems

Severe behavioural problems

Factsheet covering severe behavioural problems.

View resource
Mental health and behaviour

Mental health and behaviour

Department for Education (DfE) guidance on supporting mental health and behaviour in schools.

View resource
Tools for managing emotions
Primary

Tools for managing emotions

These tools are designed to help children understand and manage their emotions and feelings, and...

View resource