Challenging Behaviour Assessment

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Helen Woodley

Helen Woodley is a primary trained SENDCo currently working in a large KS1-4 Pupil Referral Unit in the North East of England. She spent 3 years studying Theology in Durham; Helen has worked in a wide variety of special school settings, including all age schools....
Read more about Helen Woodley
How can you work as a team to assess challenging behaviour?

As a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), I have wanted to find simple and straight forward ways of getting staff views on some of our learners.

Iceberg Analysis

Iceberg Analysis‘ is a great tool for using with staff as a discussion point with new learners with SEN needs.

The research

Eric Schopler first used the iceberg metaphor in 1995 to explain behaviour problems in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder at Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children),  at the University of North Carolina.

How does it work?

When faced with a student’s observable challenging behaviours (ie, those visible above the waterline), teachers can work together to identify possible underlying causes for these behaviours (ie, those hidden below the waterline). The iceberg image supports the idea of conducting a functional behaviour assessment to recognise the communicative function or intent of challenging behaviour.

As a functional assessment tool, Iceberg Analysis is vital in building effective and efficient behavioural supports. It works well in a staff meeting setting where you can ask staff to work in pairs to brainstorm everything they know about the young person. It gets staff talking especially if you ensure that you mix people up with someone they don’t normally work with. A couple of pointers are as follows:

  1. Make it quick: the aim is to be nippy and get discussion and ideas going so set a time limit: I suggest 5 minutes for each side with frequent time prompts.
  2. Feedback ideas: once the time is up, get staff to feedback their ideas and record them as a whole. I find it is useful to have someone nominated to type the thoughts up so that there is a record of everyone’s ideas.

In my setting, we type straight on to the learner’s SEN Support Plan and it is the class teacher who does the typing. We don’t aim for detail in the SEN Support Plan at this stage, just bullet points.

What are the benefits?

There are lots of advantages of using this tool. For example,

  • The benefit for the teacher is that they can then leave the meeting with their colleagues thoughts and strategies so that they can finish the SEN Support Plan.
  • The benefit for staff is that they can hear how others perceive the young person. For some, this reassures them that they are on the right track in their approach and for others, they can learn from others and adapt ideas into their own practice.
  • The benefit for the SENCo is that they can get a quick overview of what is working and not working in their setting. Misconceptions can be quickly addressed and areas for staff CPD development identified.

Iceberg Analysis


This is the first of part of two intervention resources by Dr. Helen Woodley – read The Intervention Record here. Download the Iceberg Analysis.


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