In our diverse classrooms these days, many more learners are requiring support with behavioural challenges. Some learners with moderate to severe/complex behavioural challenges may even need considerable support, and teachers and parents are at their wits end just trying to manage it.

Positive Behavioural Support (PBS) is an empirically validated, function-based approach used to eliminate challenging behaviour, replacing it with pro-social skills.

  • Use of PBS decreases the need for more intrusive or aversive interventions (i.e. punishment or suspension) and can lead to both systemic as well as individualised change.
  • Unlike traditional methods used in the past, the focus is not on ‘fixing’ the person or on the challenging behaviour itself and never uses punishment as a strategy for dealing with challenging behaviour.
  • PBS is based upon the principle that if you can teach someone a more effective and more acceptable means of behaviour than the challenging one they are currently displaying, the challenging behaviour will become reduced.
  • PBS suggests challenging behaviours are learned and so are open to being changed.
  • PBS teaches alternative behaviour and changes the environment to best support the person.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting attention, wanting to escape from a difficult situation, wanting certain items or displaying behaviours which just feel good.

  • PBS helps individuals to get what they want out of life by increasing the number of ways that they can achieve these things, e.g. by developing better communication skills.
  • PBS helps individuals learn new skills. For new skills to be adopted and used regularly, they have to be more effective than the challenging behaviour.
  • We can make this happen by understanding the reasons individuals display challenging behaviour and by making sure the new behaviour we want to teach are reinforced in the same way.


  • PBS can target an individual learner, an entire school or even a child at home as it does not focus exclusively on the learner, but also includes changing environmental variables such as the physical setting, task demands, curriculum, instructional pace and individualised reinforcement.
  • Thus it is successful with a wide range of learners, in a wide range of contexts, across a wide range of behaviour.

Blending behavioural science, empirically validated procedures, durable systems and change with an emphasis on socially important outcomes, PBS involves data-based decision making using functional behavioural assessment and on-going monitoring of intervention impact.


  • Problem behaviour is the single most common reason learners are removed from the classroom.
  • Harsh punishment and zero tolerance policies have not been effective at either improving the behavioural climate in school, or preventing learners with problem behaviour from entering the juvenile justice system.
  • Three years after being excluded from school, almost 70% of these youngsters have been arrested.

Learners should not be excluded from school based solely upon inappropriate social behaviour. Appropriate services can readily address and modify much of this behaviour, leading to more positive outcomes than simple punishment of a child can achieve.

How is PBS Implemented in School Settings and at Home?

  • PBS is conducted as a dedicated, collaborative effort between parents, teachers, counsellors and administrators; all partners involved being committed to the plan and its implementation.;
  • Parents as well as teachers are trained in the principles of PBS;
  • The Learner/child receives continual individual psychotherapy as needed so as to be prepared for the PBS intervention;
  • PBS plans are individualised and data-based

The child, parents and teachers are also supported in the following ways:

  • Planning, implementation and execution of the Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA) that are the most crucial parts of devising an effective PBS plan. Conducting FBAs has been proven to double the success rate of any intervention. This includes procedures for monitoring, evaluating and reassessment of the process, as may be necessary.
  • Creating a Behaviour Support Plan.
  1. A Behaviour Support Plan is a document created to help understand and manage the behaviour children display that others may find challenging.
  2. A Behaviour Support Plan provides teachers and parents with a step-by-step guide to making sure the child not only has a great quality of life but also enables teachers/parents to identify when they need to intervene to prevent an episode of challenging behaviour from occurring.
  3. A good Behaviour Support Plan is based on the results of a Functional Behavioural Assessment, a Behaviour Intervention Plan and uses a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) to bring about the desired behaviour in the child.
  4. The Plan contains a range of strategies which not only focus on the challenging behaviour but also include ways to support the child and ensure the child still  has access to things that they need and that are important to them.

In order to derive the maximum benefit from these interventions, plans need to be implemented by educators and parents alike with a high level of devotion.

How does PBS benefit the child?

  • All learners, even the disabled, can benefit from PBS.
  • Research conducted over the past 15 years has shown that PBS is effective in promoting positive behaviour in learners and at schools.
  • Use of PBS as a strategy for maintaining appropriate social behaviour in schools will help to ensure the safety of learners in those schools, thereby ensuring a more effective learning environment for all children.
  • Schools that implement system-wide interventions of this nature also report increased time engaged in academic activities and improved academic performance.
  • Schools that employ system-wide interventions for problem behaviour prevention indicate reductions in office discipline referrals to the disciplinary team of the school with of 20-60%.
  • An appropriately implemented PBS can lead to dramatic improvements that have long-term beneficial effects on the lifestyle, functional communication skills and problem behaviour.
  • A review of research on PBS effectiveness showed that there was over a 90% reduction in problem behaviour in over 50% of the studies and, in over 26% of the studies conducted, the problem behaviour ceased completely.