Krzysztof Konarzewski
Joanna Kazmierczak
Instytut Badan Edukacyjnych, Warszawa

Overview of Education System

The main legal basis for education in Poland is provided by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The education system in Poland is managed centrally by two governmental agencies—the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. National educational policy is developed and carried out centrally, while the administration of education and the running of schools are decentralized.

At present, education is regulated by several parliamentary acts and Ministry of National Education ordinances. Within the broad limits delineated by official documents, there is much room for other agents, such as educational publishers, test makers, school principals, and teachers, to determine jointly the conditions of students’ educational experience.

The Polish education system consists of five levels: preprimary (przedszkole), primary (Grades 1 to 6), lower secondary (Grades 7 to 9), upper secondary (Grades 10 to 12, or Grades 10 to 13), and post-secondary (1 to 3 semesters). Preprimary education is available for children from age 3 and is left to parental discretion, except for an obligatory year before school entry age.

Until 2009, the school entry age was 7. Between 2009 and 2015, the Ministry of National Education worked to lower the school entry age to 6. In September 2015, all 6-year-olds commenced compulsory schooling. However, when a new government came into power in November 2015, this reform was reversed, and the school entry age was raised back to 7, as of September 2016.

Primary school consists of two periods: integrated teaching (Grades 1 to 3) and subject teaching (Grades 4 to 6). In the integrated teaching period, one teacher covers most of the content across all subjects. In the subject teaching period, students have separate teachers for the major subject areas (i.e., Polish, modern foreign language, music, arts, history and society, science, mathematics, computer class, technical class, and physical education). At the end of the six years of primary school, students take a compulsory external examination (set by the Central Examination Board) that is designed primarily to provide teachers and parents with information about student achievement. This examination has no bearing on admission to lower secondary school.

Lower secondary school (gimnazjum) serves all students who graduated from primary school. It does not employ tracking. In the last grade of lower secondary school (Grade 9), students take five external examinations that cover most subjects (set by the Central Examination Board) and have a strong bearing on admission to upper secondary school.

Upper secondary school comprises two types: general education (liceum) and vocational (technikum). Approximately 45 percent and 37 percent of lower secondary school graduates attend general education and vocational schools, respectively. Each type of school offers a final external examination (matura), which entitles students with passing scores to apply to an institution of higher education. Typically, general education graduates achieve higher examination test results than vocational school graduates, and have a greater chance of being admitted to a prestigious university. Post-secondary education is available to upper secondary school graduates who wish to gain vocational qualifications for a trade or occupation.

Basic vocational schools prepare lower secondary graduates for skilled industrial or trade vocations in two year or three year programs. Approximately 17 percent of lower secondary school graduates attend these schools. Upon completion, students receive a certificate that may not be used for entry into institutions of higher education.

Languages of Instruction

Polish is the official language of Poland and belongs to the Western Slavic group of Indo-European languages. German, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Kashubian are among the languages spoken by national and ethnic minorities in Poland. Polish is the language of instruction in all schools. Children from national and ethnic minorities (1.8 percent of primary school students) also attend mother tongue and culture classes.1