Teachers across Finland are grappling with a recent ruling from the Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman that schools are not permitted to collect money for trips.
In late October Pasi Pölönen ruled that local authorities have to make sure they provide the same services for everyone.
“As the provider of education, municipalities have a duty to avoid creating practices that could in reality increase inequality,” said Pölönen.
Some schools have considered the provision of a free alternative to a paid trip was enough to ensure they complied with the legislation requiring education to be free of charge.
Thanks to the new ruling, that’s no longer the case.
School should be free of charge
The case came to the ombudsman after several complaints in 2018, which asked whether it was okay for schools to charge for trips or ‘theme’ days.
Complainants cited Finland’s constitution, which states that basic education should be free to everyone.
The ombudsman agreed, ruling that even schooling that takes place off the premises should be free of charge. The provider of education--in practice the local municipality--must have enough resources to ensure the activities are free of charge.
Parents can, if they choose, raise the funds themselves and hand them over, but that fundraising must be entirely voluntary and all of the funds must be used for all of the students.
So there can be no compulsion to pay, and all activities must be available to all children regardless of whether or not their parents contributed financially.
Guidelines need an update
One of the complaints asked if a class trip to a theme park or to Helsinki counted as schooling. The ruling holds that it does, because it takes place during schooltime and at the school’s initiative.
The ombudsman found that the option of a paid trip or a free trip was problematic. At Kimpinen School in Lappeenranta, that arrangement has been a tradition.
Kids can go downhill skiing in Tahko at a cost of 40-45 euros or participate in a winter sports day on school premises.
“Each year around 150-170 pupils have gone [to Tahko],” said the school’s deputy head Santtu Peltomaa.
According to Nina Lahtinen of the teachers’ union OAJ, school trips enrich the educational experience by exposing children to, for example, theatres and museums.
“I’m sure this ruling will mean changes,” said Lahtinen. “Hopefully those municipalities where finances are weaker will find some kind of solution and continue to arrange trips.”
The National Board of Education is also set to update its guidelines around school trips.
“We need to take some kind of timeout, as we can’t operate completely outside the law,” said Peltomaa.