Parents are facing increasing pressure to pay out thousands of pounds for extravagant school trips, campaigners have claimed.

Recent trips to far-flung destinations such as China, Peru and Borneo have attracted costs of up to £4,700 per pupil - prompting claims that schools are creating a division between privileged and less well-off pupils.

Schools insist the trips are important for developing children's leaderships skills, respect and cultural awareness, but critics argue that many parents would struggle to meet the costs and pupils unable to take part are likely to feel left out.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, told the Sunday Times: "School trips have become a one-upmanship contest.

"These come at ever higher prices which many parents cannot afford. Unnecessarily, this divides children into the privileged and the underprivileged, into the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

"Teachers will claim that such trips have educational value. If so, what justification is there for pricing out poorer children?”

Details of trips released under freedom of information laws reveal that the most expensive excursion - to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - was organised by Balfron High School, near Stirling, at a cost of almost £4,700 per pupil.

A three-week “educational” trip to Tanzania organised by Braes High in Falkirk cost pupils £3,750 each, while an 11-day “global citizenship” trip to Machu Picchu in Peru for schoolchildren in Fife cost £2,650 per person.

A further 19 pupils from Girvan Academy in South Ayrshire paid £2,490 each to visit Malawi and a week’s holiday in China for pupils at Denny High in Falkirk also cost £1,450 per child.

Lindsay Paterson, from Edinburgh University’s school of social and political science, said: “Enabling children to experience leadership is a good thing but what you might doubt is whether you need to go to the other side of the world to achieve it. You could develop leadership in Scotland in deprived communities.

"I’m not criticising schools or parents for seizing the opportunity to send their children abroad but I do question whether public policy is doing nearly enough to widen opportunity in this regard.”

Stirling council said the Ecuador trip was planned two years in advance and children were encouraged to fundraise for it.

Falkirk Council said the trips gave children cultural and educational experiences.