The Polish Education System in Brief 2019/20
A reform changing school structure (2017/18 – 2022/23)
A structural reform in Poland is being implemented since the beginning of 2017. Its main goal is to offer students a solid background of general education required for further personal development and the needs of contemporary labour market.
The key elements of the reform are as follows:
- change in the school structure: introduction of a long, 8-year primary school, 4-year general and 5-year technical upper-secondary school, which replaces the 6-3-3/4 model
- establishing school starting age at the age of 7 and reintroduction of an obligation for 6-year-olds to attend one year of pre-primary education in order to acquire basic skills before they start school; (this education, as it is the case for the school education, is financed from the general subvention from the State budget)
- provision of textbooks free of charge
- extension of secondary programmes – both general and vocational – by one year (4-year general and 5-year technical upper-secondary school )
- introduction of a new type of vocational school offering two stage vocational learning: Stage I 3-year sectoral vocational school (to obtain a professional qualification) with a possibility to continue education at Stage II sectoral vocational school for further 2 years in order to upgrade qualifications/ receive additional qualification and to prepare for the matriculation exam
- promotion of dual vocational training in cooperation with the business sector
- extending the participation of employers in co-financing of vocational education through the establishment of the Fund for Vocational Education Development.
The reform is being implemented between 1 September 2017 and the school year 2022/23. In the school year 2018/19 the last cohort of pupils graduated from gimnazja, the 3-year lower secondary schools, which ceased to operate as a result.
The new structure includes:
- 8-year primary school
- 4-year general upper secondary school
- 5-year technical upper secondary school
- Stage I 3-year sectoral vocational school
- Stage II 2-year sectoral vocational school
- 3-year special school preparing for employment
- Post-secondary school.
The restructuring takes place on the basis of an act of 14 December 2016 “Law on School Education” and an act “Legislation introducing the Act – Law on School Education”.
Stage I sectoral vocational school was introduced in September 2017, and the introduction of Stage II sectoral vocational school is scheduled for the school year 2020/21.
Full-time compulsory education lasts for 9 years. It comprises the last year of pre-school education and 8 years of primary school education.
In the Polish educational system full-time compulsory education and part-time compulsory education are defined:
- Full-time compulsory education (obligation to attend 8- year primary school) applies to pupils aged 7-15 years
- Part-time compulsory education (obligation to be in education) concerns pupils aged 15-18 and it may take place either in school settings (a student attends upper secondary school) or in non-school settings (e.g. a student follows vocational training offered by employers).
Stages of the Education System
Institutions for children aged 0-3 years:
- crèche (żłobek)
- kids club (klub dziecięcy).
Attending a crèche is not obligatory, crèches are not part of education system as they are supervised by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy.
Institutions for children aged 3-6 years:
- nursery school (przedszkole)
- pre-school class in a primary school (oddział przedszkolny w szkole podstawowej)
- pre-school unit (zespół wychowania przedszkolnego)
- pre-school centre (punkt przedszkolny).
Pre-school education is optional for 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children and obligatory for 6-year-olds. Every 3-, 4- and 5-year-old has an entitlement to a place in a pre-primary setting in his/her locality.
As of the school year 2016/17 compulsory education in grade one of primary school starts at the age of 7. All 6-year-olds have to attend a pre-school institution for one year in order to acquire basic skills before they start school.
The structural reform has already been fully in place at primary education level. The information below captures the current, post-reform picture only.
Single structure education (ISCED 1+ISCED 2)
8-year primary school (single structure education) is compulsory for all pupils who are usually aged 7-15.
It includes two stages:
- grades 1-3 (early school education)
- grades 4-8 (teaching by subject).
At the end of grade 8 of primary school pupils take a compulsory external examination. The results of the exam together with end of school achievement influence admission to secondary schools.
The structural reform is in progress, some students still follow the pre-reform school system/ type of schools therefore old structure is included in the information below.
Old structure (operating until 2022)
Lower secondary school (ISCED 2)
3-year lower secondary school called gimnazjum ceased to operate in 2019 after the last cohort of students completed this type of school.
Upper secondary school (ISCED 3)
Although this stage of education is not compulsory (or in fact compulsory part-time up to the age of 18) a vast majority of students continues education in upper secondary schools.
In the old structure there are three types of upper secondary schools:
- 3-year general upper secondary school (liceum ogólnokształcące)
- 4-year technical upper secondary school (technikum)
- 3-year basic vocational school (zasadnicza szkoła zawodowa) (already replaced by stage I 3-year sectoral vocational school (szkoła branżowa I stopnia).
Pupils attend upper secondary schools at the age of 16-19 (or 16-20 in case of the technical upper secondary school).
Old type programmes operate in 2019 for one more cycle (3-years) for the last graduates of lower secondary school (gimnazjum), which has been phased out.
The new structure is being introduced gradually starting in 2019/20 to be completed in 2023/24.
In the new structure the lower secondary school level (ISCED 2) is included in a single-structure 8-year primary school.
The new reformed structure of upper secondary education (ISCED 3) includes the following types of schools:
- 4-year general secondary school (liceum ogólnokształcące)
- 5-year technical secondary school (technikum)
- Stage I 3-year sectoral vocational school (szkoła branżowa I stopnia)
- Stage II 2-year sectoral vocational school (szkoła branżowa II stopnia).
Students of vocational schools – sectoral vocational schools and technical upper secondary schools – may take exams confirming vocational qualifications in a given occupation during the course of study or upon completion of school to receive a diploma confirming their vocational qualifications.
Graduates of general upper secondary schools and technical upper secondary schools may take the external upper secondary school leaving examination (egzamin maturalny) to obtain the Matura certificate, which gives access to higher education. This possibility will be open also to graduates of the new stage II sectoral vocational school.
Post-secondary non-tertiary education
Post-secondary education is considered to be a part of secondary education. Post-secondary schools (szkoła policealna) are intended for graduates of general upper secondary schools who wish to obtain a diploma confirming vocational qualifications.
The schools offer courses lasting from 1 to 2.5 years. The students of post-secondary schools and students of sectoral vocational schools and technical upper secondary schools take vocational exams of the same type.
This type of school has not been subject to the structural reform and remains unchanged.
There are two types of Higher Education Institutions:
- university-type (uczelnia akademicka)
- non-university-type (uczelnia zawodowa).
They both offer first- and second-cycle programmes as well as long-cycle Master’s degree programmes while only university-type HEIs can offer third-cycle programmes (doctoral studies) and are authorized to award doctoral degrees.
Studies are organized in the form of full-time (studia stacjonarne) or part-time (studia niestacjonarne) programmes.
First-cycle programmes lead to two types of degrees:
- licencjat (equivalent of Bachelor’s degree) – 3-4 year programmes
- inżynier (equivalent of Bachelor’s degree) – 3.5-4 year programmes.
Holders of the Bachelor’s degree can enter second-cycle programmes, which take 1.5-2 years depending on the area of study.
Only several fields of study offer long-cycle Master’s degree programmes that last for 4-6 years. First-cycle, second-cycle and long-cycle Master’s programmes end with a diploma examination and students who have passed it are granted a relevant degree.
The Master’s degree (magister or its equivalent) entitles its holder to practice a given profession and provides access to third-cycle studies. They are organised in HEIs or research and development institutions other than HEIs and last for 3-4 years.
Adult education is open to adults who wish to complete school education on primary and secondary level or acquire new vocational qualifications and skills for professional or personal reasons.
It is organised, in school and non-school settings, by:
- continuing education institutions
- practical training institutions
- in-service training centres
- HEIs as non-degree postgraduate programmes.
Training is offered also to the unemployed and to certain categories of people searching for a job.
Further information on the system may be found in particular chapters as well as on the websites:
- Ministry of National Education,
- Ministry of Science and Higher Education
- Central Statistical Office (statistical data).