Complexity and student behaviour

A complex behaviour is one where the reasons behind the behaviour are difficult to see. It usually requires intervention from multiple stakeholders such as school staff, support staff, external service providers, parents, carers and the involvement of the student themselves.

Providing effective support for students with complex behaviour is an important task for educators. Research shows that focusing on prevention and early intervention from a young age can reduce the need for targeted interventions later on.

A positive, preventative and inclusive approach to complex behaviour

Building staff capacity across the education system to meet the needs of students with complex behaviour is challenging.

Current research suggests the following approaches are worthwhile:

  • providing ongoing, system-wide professional learning to all staff to assist them to understand disability, mental health and trauma and the impact they may have on learning and behaviour
  • harnessing the experience of Schools for Specific Purposes (SSP) staff to support other staff in their local areas
  • establishing system-wide processes to ensure students effectively transition from specialist settings back into mainstream schools, and making a priority of Year 6 students transitioning to other high schools in Year 7
  • establishing clear lines of communication and accountability to coordinate support for students with complex behavioural needs
  • facilitating the use of whole school approaches
  • using functional behaviour assessments to assist school decision-making related to supporting students with complex behavioural needs
  • providing wrap-around service support for students with a high level of need.


Student wellbeing and behaviour is influenced by various socio-ecological factors and the way they interact. The complexity of environments such as home and family, school and community play an important role in child development.

Research shows that context makes a significant difference to the outcomes a program achieves. Adapting interventions to suit the context is a key step in the implementation process. If the local context isn't taken into account, the intervention may not be sustainable in the long-term and could potentially waste school time and resources. The STEPS decision-making tool can be used as guide when adapting interventions relevant to your setting.


Schools have a range of policies, practices and resources, managed by the school's Learning and Support Team, to address additional student needs including behavioural needs. Schools needing support beyond their own resources for students with complex and challenging needs can access additional services such as Assistant Principals/Learning and Support (PDF 41.94KB), Learning and Wellbeing personnel and Networked Specialist Facilitators. Specialist classes, specialist settings and Integration Funding Support may be accessed via placement panel through local school services if students meet criteria for these programs and it is supported by their parent or carer.

Personalising student learning

Our schools have an obligation to ensure that students with disability and additional learning and support needs can participate in education on the same basis as their peers at every stage of their school life.

Parents and carers, teachers and school support staff, allied professionals, the community - and particularly students themselves - all have important roles to play. Please refer to our Personalised support for student learning pages for more information, including information on personalising learning and adjustments that can be made for students with additional learning needs.

More information

Fact sheet Functional Behaviour Assessment (PDF 208.88KB).

What is ADHD? (The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of NSW / SPELD).

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Telethon Kids Institute.

Professional learning

Online Training Australia understanding and supporting student behaviour explores what is meant by difficult behaviour, how teacher practice can influence student behaviour and how positive classroom management practices support the learning and behaviour needs of all students.

Online Training Australia understanding personalised learning and support explores processes and strategies to support the additional learning and wellbeing needs of a wide range of students who require individual planning approaches.

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