Local government, local needs


Lower to middle secondary.

Curriculum links

Links to the Australian Curriculum


This activity uses an investigative approach to extend knowledge about local government. Students work within guidelines to develop an understanding of the relationship between local needs and local government services. Students work in small groups to collect, interpret and report information.


Two class sessions with additional time for collecting and presenting information.


Information about local government services from the local council, paper, pens and other materials for report presentation.


1 Developing background

Begin this topic by asking the students a series of 'What would happen if ... questions. The questions should focus on the work of local government. Some examples are: What would happen if there were no rubbish collection? ... if there were no health regulations for restaurants? ... if roads were not maintained? ... if there were no dog or cat regulations? ... if there were no public libraries? ... if there were no preschools? ... if there were no plans or protection for the environment?

After the discussion, ask students what all these services have in common. Write 'Local Government' on the board and the name of your local council. Tell the students that local government is one of three spheres of government in Australia. Ask them what the other two are and write State/Territory Government and Federal Government on the board. Drawing on some of the previous examples, ask the students why, for example, the Federal government does not look after rubbish collection or local libraries. Guide a general discussion to highlight some of the major differences in what each sphere of government does.

Explain to the students that they will find out more about what local government does in their community. Tell them that the work of local government can be grouped into three major categories: providing services, caring for people and the environment and planning for future needs. Write these on the board. Divide the class into three groups and have each group focus on one of these categories. Provide groups with information from the local council about its work and services. Ask students to identify areas of council work for their topic. After discussion, nominate one person from each group to write down specific responsibilities under each of the three categories on the board (eg providing youth centres, running libraries; ensuring buildings, shops etc are clean and safe, protecting historical sites; planning road improvements, establishing kindergartens, etc).

2 Collecting data

Tell the students that their next task is to find out whether Council's work is meeting local needs. Explain that everyone in each group will ask some members of their community about their ideas. Write the following questions on the board (or you may want to prepare these as a handout for each group member):
  • Group One: How would you rate the services Council provides? (Very good, acceptable, needs improvement.) What would you like to see changed?
  • Group Two: How would you rate the way Council cares for people and the environment? (Very good, acceptable, needs improvement.) What would you like to see changed?
  • Group Three: How would you rate Council's planning process for future needs? (Very good, acceptable, needs improvement.) What would you like to see changed?

Tell the students that they have to ask these questions of two people from their community. Have them identify who should be included (different age groups, males and females, people from different areas in the community, people from different ethnic backgrounds, etc). Tell them that people who do research would be careful to take a balanced sample from the whole community, but in this class study each student will be responsible for choosing two people who are different in at least two ways (eg male, female; adolescent, senior citizen). Remind the students to explain to the people they talk to the purpose of the questions and not to collect any personal identification information.

3 Drawing conclusions

After the students have finished their interviews, have them work in their research groups to tally responses for each question. After all the information has been recorded, ask the students to think about the information. What are the major conclusions? How could they summarise overall reaction to Council's work? What are the areas identified for change? Do the results match expectations? Why?

4 Reporting findings

Ask each group to conclude their research by choosing one way to share their information with others. They could write an article for the local newspaper, prepare a report to present to the local council, create an information display for the school, etc.

Extension activity

Based on the conclusions from the research, students may want to extend their investigation of local needs and local council work. For example, students might organise a petition to the local council, initiate a community action group to respond to a shared need, or invite local council members to the school to discuss present and planned services in a specific area.

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