About local government for teachers

This page has been developed as a guide to Local Government in South Australia for students and teachers.

Local government is the area of community decision-making that is the closest, most relevant, has most impact, and is most cost accessible to young people. Schools and students have the greatest opportunity for influencing decisions at the level of local government - and thus possibilities for empowering young people are greatest at this level.

It is important that our students become active and informed citizens and show an interest in their local community and environment. They need to be provided with opportunities to develop civic values, understanding the role they can play and the responsibilities that go with that involvement.

Visiting the local council can be an exciting, enjoyable and valuable part of the school program. A visit provides students with a firsthand opportunity to learn how local government works.

Visiting council offers students the opportunity to:

  • Understand how the political system and their community works. Local government affects their lives.
  • Become involved with their community as active citizens.
  • Interact with staff and council members and gain knowledge of their local community.
  • Communicate, find information and investigate the functions and activities of council.

It is also possible to bring the council into the classroom! The most usual way is through a visit to the classroom from an elected member, especially the Mayor, or member of staff.

If your school would like to visit the local council or have an elected member or council staff member visit your school, you may telephone the council directly and liaise with the appropriate person. Just ask the person on the switchboard who you should talk with. A planning visit to council in advance by the teacher is beneficial.

When planning a council visit teachers need to:

  • Discuss plans ideas and activities for the visit with the appropriate council contact person
  • Request the person you would prefer for the visit (an elected member, engineer or community relations officer)
  • Choose a mutually convenient date and time (it would be best to contact council at least one month before the time you would like to visit.
  • Make a decision whether it would be best for the school to visit council or vice versa
  • Send your council a copy of the curriculum materials and aims so that a presentation can be tailored to your specific subject
  • Determine the amount of time required and number of students likely to attend
  • Assess how much students can accomplish in one visit to council

An effective way to introduce students to the role and function of local government and the Chamber environment is to conduct a mock council meeting.

Classes who have prepared for the mock council meeting generally perform well, are confident, relaxed and able to learn from and enjoy the meeting experience. On the other hand the experience can be confusing, difficult and uncomfortable for students who have come to the mock council meeting unprepared.

Preparing for the meeting does not need to take a lot of time and effort and can actually add to the whole experience of the program. Below is a checklist to help you prepare.

  • Elect one Mayor and six Councillors. Hold classroom elections, selecting volunteers for the role or use another method to choose your "Elected Members".
  • Develop two proposals to be put to the "Council" and discussed. Proposals should be in the form of a specific request to Council for a particular action.
  • Use Props. Some students might present written or illustrated proposals (for example, a theme park) to support their issue. Others may build models or provided samples.
  • Think about the topic. The local Messenger, Advertiser, Council Reports, Student Workbook and students imaginations can all be used to arrive at the proposal for discussion.
  • Encourage Participation. Students who are not playing a role of either Mayor or Councillor play the role of the community. Encourage these "residents" to take on and dress up as a particular character.

Suggested topics for debate include:

  • A proposal from council to provide a skate park in a local reserve. It might be near a retirement village or local businesses. This gives residents a chance to air their opinions/concerns re vandalism, crime etc.
  • Cat control issues - such as council to introduce registration of cats or limiting number of cats per household or night-time curfew on cats.
  • Demolishing a historical home and surrounding trees and gardens to make way for three storey units.
  • Any environmental issues - such as development at the beach, factory near a river etc.
  • Dog issues: Dogs to be on leads at all times, council reserve to be turned into Dog Park, One of councils beaches to be a dog free zone.

For information on how a mock meeting should be run, please click here.