"The problem is increasing and the tendency is that the school trips are getting all the more exclusive and expensive. People travel to far-off places in the world. It can cost 2,000 to 6,000 krononr ($320 to $970) per student; that’s quite a lot of money," Alf Johansson, a lawyer with the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) told the TT news agency.
According to Swedish law, such trips shouldn't cost students anything, but are supposed to be paid for by municipalities or, in the case of publicly-funded, privately-managed free schools, by the schools themselves.
When the inspectorate reviewed 824 schools last year, it discovered that 50 schools – 6 percent – violated a basic principle of Sweden's school laws which stipulates that all students have the right to free education.
Johansson said he didn't know exactly how many students haven't been able to afford such trips, but he's convinced there is a large number of unreported cases because many of the trips organised by Sweden's 6,000 schools never come to the agency's attention.
The Schools Inspectorate can review how trips were financed after they've taken place to see if schools have broken the law.
And starting on July 1st, when Sweden's new school law enters into force, Sweden's various schools agencies will have an expanded arsenal of tools to use against schools that violate the law, including those related to policing school trips.
The new regulations will cover both municipal public schools and free schools.
"We're now got various levels of sanctions which start by issuing a criticism for less serious infractions. Then we can issue an injunction demanding that the problems which conflict with the law on schools be fixed. And if the schools do nothing and don't fix the problems, we can add a fine to the injunction," said Johansson.
However, the new law does allow for voluntary contributions to school trips – something that concerns both the Schools Inspectorate and the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket).
While the law stipulates that all education should be free of charge, there can be, according to the government, certain cases during the academic year when additional costs incurred in connection with school trips can be paid for by voluntary contributions from parents.
If one or several parents can't pay, however, the municipality should cover the costs because the activity should be open to all students.
"Both we and the National Agency for Education have been critical of the fact that the option for voluntary contributions still exists, because exactly what counts as voluntary is open to interpretation," said Johansson.
He believes that, in practice, the system singles out students who can't pay.