Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit




EDTS617 Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviour

Unit rationale, description and aim

At a time of rapid ongoing change in society and education, the role of an educator or allied professional with specialist knowledge and skills is critical to helping all young people, especially those with complex needs, attain the knowledge, dispositions and skills they need for successful, lifelong learning. In this unit, within the Inclusive Practice specialisation of the Graduate Certificate in Education and Master of Education, students will examine theory, research and practice critical to working effectively with children and adolescents with complex social-emotional/behavioural and learning needs. Students will examine, evaluate and critique relevant core legislation, national frameworks, policies and curriculum documents. Students will also examine approaches to assessment, collaborative planning with school staff, families and community agencies to implement prevention and/or direct intervention strategies, and effective evidence-based approaches that will promote positive relationships, a sense of belonging, and greater engagement with learning for young people with complex needs. Therefore, the aim of this unit is to support students in developing the required advanced knowledge, understanding and skills they need in order to build inclusive environments that will support the learning of all children and adolescents, especially those with complex social-emotional/behavioural and learning needs.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Descibe theories, principles, legislation, frameworks, codes of ethics, conduct requirements and policy relevant to student behaviour, wellbeing and safety and functioning within inclusive schools and educational settings (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10; APST 1.3, 4.4, 7.1, 7.2)

LO2 - Utilise collaborative team approaches to planning and conducting assessments of the social-emotional/behavioural functioning and learning of young people with complex needs (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9; APST 1.2, 1.3, 3.7, 4.1, 4.3, 5.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3)

LO3 - Articulate multidimensional “functional behaviour assessment” (FBA) to examine factors potentially contributing to a child or adolescent’s complex needs (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9; APST 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 3.6, 3.7, 4.1, 4.3, 5.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3)

LO4 - Evaluate the validity of an assessment by utilising a collaborative team approach to interpreting assessment findings (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9; APST 1.2, 1.3, 3.7, 4.1, 5.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3)

LO5 - Develop positive individual plans (e.g., “personalised behaviour plan” or “positive behaviour support plan”) for implementing evidence-based approaches and specific strategies to support children and adolescents with complex needs to function more effectively in inclusive settings (GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9; APST 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.2, 3.2, 3.6, 3.7, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3)

LO6 - Analyse different stakeholder perspectives as well as strategies for establishing and sustaining collaborative partnerships among families, school staff and community service professionals (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA9, APST 3.7, 4.3, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3).

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


On successful completion of this unit, students should have gained evidence towards the following standards:

1.1  Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students (Highly Accomplished)

Select from a flexible and effective repertoire of teaching strategies to suit the physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students

1.2  Understand how students learn (Lead)

Lead processes to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching programs using research and workplace knowledge about how students learn.

1.3  Students with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds (Highly Accomplished)

Support colleagues to develop effective teaching strategies that address the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

1.5  Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities (Highly Accomplished)

Evaluate learning and teaching programs, using student assessment data, that are differentiated for the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities.

2.2  Content selection and organisation (Highly Accomplished)

Exhibit innovative practice in the selection and organisation of content and delivery of learning and teaching programs.

3.2  Plan, structure and sequence learning programs (Highly Accomplished)

Work with colleagues to plan, evaluate and modify learning and teaching programs to create productive learning environments that engage all students

3.6  Evaluate and improve teaching programs (Lead)

Conduct regular reviews of teaching and learning programs using multiple sources of evidence including: student assessment data, curriculum documents, teaching practices and feedback from parents/carers, students and colleagues.

3.7  Engage parents/carers in the educative process (Highly Accomplished)

Work with colleagues to provide appropriate and contextually relevant opportunities for parents/carers to be involved in their children’s learning.

4.1  Support student participation (Highly Accomplished)

Model effective practice and support colleagues to implement inclusive strategies that engage and support all students.

4.3  Manage challenging behaviour (Lead)

Lead and implement behaviour management initiatives to assist colleagues to broaden their range of strategies.

4.4  Maintain student safety (Lead)

Evaluate the effectiveness of student well-being policies and safe working practices using current school and/ or system, curriculum and legislative requirements and assist colleagues to update their practices

5.4  Interpret student data (Highly Accomplished)

Work with colleagues to use data from internal and external student assessments for evaluating learning and teaching, identifying interventions and modifying teaching practice.

7.1  Meet professional ethics and responsibilities (Lead)

Model exemplary ethical behaviour and exercise informed judgements in all professional dealings with students, colleagues and the community.

7.2  Comply with legislative, administrative and organisational requirements (Highly Accomplished)

Support colleagues to review and interpret legislative, administrative, and organisational requirements, policies and processes.

7.3  Engage with the parents/carers (Lead)

Identify, initiate and build on opportunities that engage parents/ carers in both the progress of their children’s learning and in the educational priorities of the school.


Topics will include: 

Core legislation, national frameworks, policies, curriculum documents as well as theories, principles, research and practice relevant to supporting students with complex needs and challenging behaviour 

  • Factors that may contribute to children and adolescents’ complex needs and challenging behaviours in schools and educational or community settings 
  • Collaborative planning and conducting of assessments to obtain information about the social-emotional/behavioural functioning and learning of young people with complex needs 
  • Importance of multidimensional assessment and “functional behaviour assessment” to examine factors potentially contributing to a young person’s complex needs including aggressive behaviours 
  • Establishing the validity of a multidimensional functional assessment by involving the collaborative team in interpreting the findings of the assessment  
  • Collaborative development of personalised learning plans and positive behaviour support strategies to proactively respond to the needs students with diverse learning needs and backgrounds (i.e., direct intervention), prevent further difficulties and maintain positive changes 
  • Collaborative development of personalised learning plans that support students’ mental health and promote belonging, achievement, engagement, wellbeing and quality of life within an inclusive school or educational setting 
  • Collaboration, communication and team work in educational settings to involve families/carers, community services and agencies in establishing a support network and inproviding needed support for young people with complex needs and challenging behavior. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is offered in multi-mode and will be supported by a unit LEO (learning environment online) site. Engagement for learning is the key driver in the delivery of this curriculum. The unit will facilitate active participation in pedagogical approaches that demonstrate alignment of teaching, learning and assessment and may incorporate a combination of strategies including individual and group work, activity-based workshops, formal presentations and online activities and engagement; for example: 

  • Active learning to promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content. 
  • Case Studies for students to explore how what they have learned applies to real world situations. 
  • Collaborative learning in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and mutual understanding. 
  • Enquiry-based learning to identify student’s own issues and questions. 
  • Peer learning is an effective means for students to gain deeper understanding of new concepts through informal and formal means. 
  • Problem-based learning uses authentic, loosely structured problems for students to solve. 
  • Project based learning involves deep learning, as it focuses on real world problems and challenges and relies on problem solving, decision making and investigative skills. 

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video, workshops, and assignments etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment tasks are used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes and professional standards and criteria consistent with University assessment requirements.  

The assessment will relate directly to the achievement of the outcomes above. Some flexibility may be exercised in the assessment tasks to align with the needs of the students; for example, some students may be working in schools or other educational contexts, in an administrative role or currently on leave from teaching in a school.  In order to pass this unit, students are required to submit or participate in both assessment tasks. 

The first assessment task has been selected to deepen participants understanding and knowledge in the field by critically analysing theories, principles and policy impacting on student behaviour, wellbeing and safety within inclusive schools and educational settings. This task requires critical reflection of the participant beliefs and factors that contribute to student behaviour(. Using a collaborative discussions strategy helps to promote active peer learning and can draw on a variety of teaching and learning approaches including problem-based, enquiry-based and others outlined above to address authentic issues, problems and questions from participant’s contexts. This assessment strategy also helps to build a sense of ‘transactional presence’ for online students, developing participant’s sense of connectedness.  

The second assessment task has been selected to allow participants to apply the knowledge and understanding gained in the unit through a case study approach. This task requires participants to analyse student behaviour in an inclusive educational setting, identifying why the behaviour warrants direct intervention, identification of possible contributing factors as well as the consequences that maintain or positively change the behaviour(. Participants critique of the assessment of behaviour ) and select evidence-based teaching strategies to promote belonging, achievement and engagement within an inclusive classroom or educational setting and investigate collaborative partnerships with family and community services. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers addressed in this unit are at a highly accomplished or lead level, reflected in this task when participants are required to include how they will incorporate a collaborative team approach that includes a plan to lead colleagues, parents and caregivers to build their capacity to support the case study student and others within the school or educational setting who have complex needs and challenging behaviours. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1 

Planned and Scaffolded Discussion 

This task requires students to engage in planned discussions (online and/or face-to-face) in which they provide evidence of their critical analysis, reflection, knowledge and deep understanding of the impact of contemporary theories, policies, practices as well as potential contributing factors (including their own personal beliefs) on the assessment and interpretation of findings in relation to a young person presenting with complex needs and/or challenging behaviours


LO1, LO2,  

LO3, LO4

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, 

GA9, GA10

Assessment Task 2 

Case Study 

This task requires students to develop a positive individual plan (e.g., a “personalised behaviour plan” or “positive behaviour support plan” – terminology varies across educational jurisdictions) for a child or adolescent in a school or educational setting who has complex needs and/or challenging behaviours. The plan must be designed as the outcome of a collaborative team approach that involves building the capacity of all team members (young person, parents or caregivers, school staff and possibly allied professionals from the community) to support the focus child or adolescent (case study) within an inclusive school or educational context.


LO3, LO4, LO5, LO6

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, 

GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Bambara, L.M., Janney, R., & Snell, M.E. (2015). Behavior support (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. 

Charles, C.M. (2014). Building classroom discipline (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education. 

Mitchell, D. (2017). Diversities in education: Effective ways to reach all learners. New York: Routledge. 

Porter, L. (2014). A comprehensive guide to classroom management: Facilitating engagement and learning in schools. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. 

Rogers, B. (2015). Classroom behaviour: A practical guide to effective teaching, behaviour management and colleague support (4th ed.). London: SAGE. 

Shaddock, A., Packer, S., & Roy, A. (2015). Schools for all children and young people: Report of the expert panel on students with complex needs and challenging behaviour. Canberra, ACT: Education Directorate. Retrieved from /assets/pdf _file/0003/ 856254/Attach-4-Expert-Panel-Report-Web.pdf 

Slee, P.T., & Skrzypiec, G. (2016). Well-being, positive relations and bullying in school settings. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.  

Sugai, G., Simonsen, B., Freeman, J., & La Salle, T. (2016). Capacity development and multi-tiered systems of support: Guiding principles. Australasian Journal of Special Education40(2), 80-98. 

Sullivan, A., Johnson, B., & Lucas, B. (2016). Challenging dominant views on student behaviour at school answering back. Singapore: Springer Education. 

Zirpoli, T.J. (2016). Behaviour management: Positive application for teachers (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs