Local Government: Local government services and 'Joining In'


Middle primary.


Students examine details about the work of their local government councils and relate these to community participation. The activities are planned to answer the following questions:

  • What does local government do?
  • How does local government help the local community?
  • How can people join in the work of local government?


Three sessions.


Handout 'Local councils' services', local newspapers, information from the local government council and the Resource Database, library books, paper, pens, three paper circles (as described below), materials for posters.


1 Setting the scene

Before class begins make three paper circles: a large one with 'Federal Government, Australia' on it, a medium one with 'State Government' and the name of your state or territory on it, and a small one with 'Local Government' and the name of your local council on it.

Introduce this discussion by writing 'RUBBISH' on the board. Read the word, then ask students what happens to the rubbish at home and at school. Lead a discussion which focuses on who collects the rubbish and who is in charge of organising the collection. When the local council is identified, put up the circle with Local Government written on it.

Add the circles for State Government and Federal Government. Read the labels on each circle. Tell the students that these are names of three spheres of government. Ask the students why they are different sizes. Ask them to think about why the state or federal government is not in charge of local rubbish collection. Guide a general discussion to highlight some of the major differences in what each level of government does.

Tell the students that in the next few days they will find out more about local government. Explain that the work of local government is usually done by a council. Discuss any local variations to terms which cover local government, eg shire, borough. Tell the students that they will find out about some of the work that the local council does in their area.

2 Clarifying details

Distribute the handout 'Local councils' services'. Ask the students to read this page to find out some of the work that local councils do. Write the heading 'Things my council does' on the board. Have the students identify those things in their local community that the council is doing to look after people or the environment.

Ask the class whether they know of any people or groups in their community who join in to help the council with its work (eg volunteer firefighters; local historical societies; community groups like Lions, Apex). Write these names or groups on the board. Tell the students they will find out more about how the council and local people help look after people and the environment.

3 Organising work groups and collecting information

Tell the students that they will work in small groups to find out more about one of the groups or services on the board. Explain that they will choose one of these and get information about it from their local area. Organise the students into work groups and have each group choose one of the groups or services on the board.

Either provide a range of information and materials about council services or have students collect information about their topic by contacting the local council, by searching their school or local libraries for council publications, local newspapers and information from local community groups. Have them focus on finding out answers to the following questions: What is the name of the service or group? What activities do they carry out to help people or the environment? Who joins in to do the work? Provide opportunities for the groups to collect details on their topic area.

4 Presenting findings

After the groups have completed their research, have a class discussion about the ways students can present their information. List these on the board (eg poster, brochure, audio tape with booklet etc). Have students choose the best option for their group. Remind the students that all the presentations have to give details to answer the questions under point 3 above.

Other resources

The unit 'Joining in' in the Discovering Democracy School Materials Project develops lesson plans for students to investigate the kinds, structures and functions of groups in the community. The unit examines ways that people participate in these groups and the reasons they participate. Students are given opportunities to make links between community groups and how local government supports them.

HANDOUT: Local Councils' Services

Local councils help the community in many ways.

Looking after the environment

Councils are responsible for looking after the parts of the community that are public property - for example roads and parks. Councils build and repair roads and provide some car parks.

Planning is an important part of the work of councils. For example, councils decide where new roads, houses and shops should go and where natural areas are to be protected. Plans for all new buildings are approved by the council. Councils also preserve historic places. Councils arrange for rubbish to be collected and for waste to be recycled.

Looking after people

Councils help members of the community by protecting health and by providing community services and recreation and cultural facilities. Community services include: meals-on-wheels, health centres and activities for youth and elderly people. Councils also help their state's Emergency Services.

Some councils run libraries, art galleries and theatres. They may provide public halls in the community. Councils usually have areas for parks, swimming pools and tennis courts.

Councils ensure their area is healthy by doing such things as destroying rats, checking that restaurants and shops are clean, registering dogs and immunising people against diseases.

Not all councils do all these things. Each council does the things that are most important to its own local community.

Adapted from Councils at Work - An Education Kit for Local Government Studies, New Edition, Local Government and Shires Association of NSW,1994, sheets 3 & 4.