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Since the political transformation (the collapse of the communist regime) in 1989, the Polish education system has undergone profound changes in nearly all of its aspects including the structure, organization, management and the core curriculum. As a result it has developed some specific features which can be described as follows:

  • Domination of centralized governance (i.e. laws/ regulations for which the Minister of Education and the Minister of Science and Higher Education are responsible ) and decentralization of school administration (for which local authorities are responsible);
  • System of external examinations carried out at the end of each educational stage. Pupils of primary and lower secondary school take these exams obligatorily, but for graduates of upper secondary schools they are optional, however all the students willing to continue their education at the tertiary level have to take their upper secondary leaving exam called egzamin maturalny;
  • Specific definition of the status of teachers. The teaching profession is regulated by separate legislation (the Teacher’s Charter) which defines rules of admission, remuneration and dismissal of teachers and their career path;
  • Domination of the public education sector over private. In school education the number of public schools and students attending them greatly outweighs non-public schools and their pupils. In higher education system the majority of students is also enrolled in public HEIs.

Educational stages

Full-time compulsory education lasts for 10 years and comprises the last year of pre-school education, 6 years of primary school education and 3 years of lower secondary school education.

In the Polish educational system full-time compulsory education and part-time compulsory education were defined. Full-time compulsory education (obligation to attend primary and lower secondary school) applies to pupils aged 6-16 years while part-time compulsory education (obligation to be in education) concerns pupils aged 16-18 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).

Characteristics of the educational stages are as follows:

  • ECEC (wczesna edukacja i opieka) – comprises two stages (children 0-3 and 3-5 years of age) and a different set of institutions available at each stage: crèches (żłobek) or kids clubs (klub dziecięcy) - for children aged 0-3 years and nursery schools (przedszkole), pre-school classes in primary schools (oddziały przedszkolne w szkołach podstawowych), pre-school units (zespół wychowania przedszkolnego) and pre-school centres (punkt przedszkolny) - for children aged 3-5 years. Attending a crèche is not obligatory, crèches also are not a part of education system and are supervised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Nursery schools are optional for 3- and 4-year- old children and obligatory for 5-year-olds. As of September 2015 every 4-year old has an entitlement to a place in a pre-primary setting.
  • Primary education (szkolnictwo podstawowe)6-year primary school (szkoła podstawowa) is compulsory for all pupils. Before the school year 2013/2014 children used to start school education at the age of 7, but the school starting age has been gradually lowered to 6 years as of 2014/2015. In September 2015 (the school year 2015/2016) all 6-year old children start compulsory education in primary school. Now children complete primary education at the age of 13 and from 2019/2020 onwards pupils will graduate at the age of 12. At the end of primary education pupils take a compulsory external exam, the results of which are used only for information and not for selection purposes.
  • Lower secondary school (szkoła średnia I stopnia)3-year gimnazjum is another stage of compulsory education. At present it is attended by pupils aged 13-16 years, but due to the lowering of school starting age, 12-year-old pupils will start education in lower secondary schools in the school year 2020/2021 and they will graduate at the age of 15. At the end of lower secondary school pupils take a compulsory external exam and its results influence admission to upper secondary schools.
  • Upper secondary school (szkoła średnia II stopnia)the following types of upper secondary schools are open to candidates: 3-year general upper secondary school (liceum), 4-year technical upper secondary school (technikum) and 3-year basic vocational school (zasadnicza szkoła zawodowa). Pupils attend upper secondary schools at the age of 16-19 (16-20 years in case of the technical upper secondary school). Although this stage of education is not compulsory (or in fact compulsory part time up to the age of 18) vast majority of students continues education in upper secondary schools. After lowering the school starting age relevant changes will affect this stage of education (i.e. ages of students will change to 15 – 18/19). Students of vocational schools - basic 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.
  • Post-secondary non-tertiary education (szkolnictwo policealne)in the Polish education system 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 their vocational qualifications. The schools offer courses lasting from 1 to 2.5 years. The students of post-secondary schools and students of basic vocational schools and technical upper secondary schools take vocational exams of the same type.
  • Higher education (szkolnictwo wyższe) – there are two types of HEIs: university-type (uczelnia akademicka) and 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 or part-time programmes. First-cycle programmes last for 3-4 years and lead to a Bachelor’s degree (licencjat) or for 3.5-4 years and lead to Bachelor’s degree (inżynier). Holders of the Bachelor’s degree can enter second-cycle programmes, which take 1.5-2 years depending on the specialty. 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 degree. The Master’s degree 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.
  • There are also some institutions in the framework of school education system (not the higher education system) offering education at tertiary level (short-cycle higher education), namely colleges of social work.
  • Adult education – this stage of 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 or as non-degree postgraduate programmes (in HEIs). Training is offered also to the unemployed and to certain categories of people searching for a job.

Administration and governance

Polish education system is centrally governed by the Minister of National Education, however schools (both primary and secondary) are administered at the local level by the following authorities:

  • commune authorities (gmina) - administer nursery schools, primary schools and lower secondary schools;
  • district authorities (powiat) - administer upper secondary schools;
  • province authorities (województwo) - administer schools of regional and supra-regional importance.

Schools are supervised by the Minister of National Education and Educational Superintendents (at regional level).

HEIs constitute a separate higher education system which is governed centrally by the Minister of Science and Higher Education. There are also advisory and consulting bodies. HEIs are autonomous, which means that they regulate academic maters and their internal procedures by themselves.

Adult education is not regulated by a separate law. Laws regulating school education system and higher education system refer to adult education if it takes place in school settings or in HEIs.

For further information, please consult the introduction articles of Organisation and Governance and of each educational level: Early Childhood Education and Care, Primary Education, Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education, Higher Education, Adult Education and Training.

For a brief description of other main topics regarding the national education system, please read the introduction article of Funding in education, Teachers and education staff, Management and other education staff, Educational support and guidance, Quality assurance, Mobility and internationalisation.

For information on recently adopted or planned reforms and policy measures, please consult topic Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments.

While Polish chapters provide comprehensive and comparable information, further information may also be found on the websites of the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Central Statistical Office (statistical data).

Structure of the national education system 2014/15

Age of students                                                                                                                                              Programme duration (years)

Diagram 2015 Poland.png

Key Notes.3.PNG

Source: Eurydice

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