Children and young people presenting with ‘unwanted’ or ‘challenging’ behaviour in school is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching and education. A national survey of behaviour commissioned by the DfE (2023) found that 60% of school leaders and teachers said pupil misbehaviour had had a negative impact on their health and that six minutes of every half hour of lessons was lost as a result of dealing with misbehaviour. The Department for Education (2022) state that:

Schools need to manage behaviour well so they can provide calm, orderly, safe and supportive environments in which children and young people want to attend and can learn and thrive. Being taught how to behave well is vital for children to succeed personally and for them to successfully navigate the communities they inhabit.

With that being said, persistent challenging behaviour is often a way for children or young people to communicate that something is wrong – it is a sometimes a sign that they are in distress. But before we begin to explore the ‘why‘ around challenging behaviour, let us first come to understand what challenging behaviour is. In our training course, it describes a number of behaviours that children may present with that prove difficult for staff to manage, or:

culturally abnormal behaviour(s) of such an intensity, frequency or duration that the physical safety of the person or others is likely to be placed in serious jeopardy, or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit use of, or result in the person being denied access to, ordinary community facilities.

Challenging behaviour can be present in the form of low-level disruptive behaviours or escalate to much more problematic behaviours. These include:

  • noise-making
  • refusing to work
  • wandering
  • physical aggression
  • damaging property
  • self-injurious behaviour

Challenging behaviour does not exist in a vacuum. Children are much more likely to present with challenging behaviour if they are exposed to certain risk factors in their community (for example, socio-economic disadvantage, discrimination), family (for example, neglect, or inconsistent discipline) and there may be risk factors present within the child (for example, communication difficulties or low self-esteem). For more information on challenging behaviour, the reasons that children may present with challenging behaviour, and support to plan for positive behaviour change, take a look at our training programme written and delivered by Educational Psychologist Dr. Gary Lavan. 



GOV UK (2022) Behaviour in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff.

DfE (2023). National Behaviour Survey.