Place guarantee in early childhood education and care (ECEC)
Children aged up to 3 years
Care for children aged up to 3 years is a statutory task of the commune (gmina, the lowest-level local government unit). However, there is no guarantee in the legislation to provide a place at a childcare institution to children aged under 3 years.
The main barrier to access is the small number of crèches in relation to the demand. Changes introduced since 2011 have aimed to provide conditions for the development of diverse care settings and to improve the quality of care for children aged up to 3 years. Recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of early childhood care institutions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted this growth. This is because interest in centre-based care for children aged up to 3 years has declined. Thus, the number of children attending crèches, kids’ clubs and crèche units dropped in 2021 by 58,600 as compared to 2020. In 2021, 170,500 children attended institutions for children aged up to 3 years, including 1,300 children with disabilities.
Like in the previous year, compared with 2020, the number of childcare institutions increased only by 6% in 2021. The demand for places in crèches has yet to be met. For example, in 2021, crèches administered by the communes represented only 25% of all crèches (a 1% increase compared with 2020); the remaining crèches (75%) were non-public institutions. The communes also administer only 17% of kids’ clubs (an increase by 4% compared with 2020); 83% were non-public settings.
Table 1. Number of institutions and places for children aged up to 3 years, 2011–2021
Number of institutions
Number of places
Source: Activity and financial reports on the care for children aged up to 3 years, 2011–2021. The 2011 and 2012 reports do not include the number of places in non-public settings; the figures are based on the Council of Ministers report on the implementation of the Act of 4 February 2011 on the Care for Children aged up to 3 years in 2021.
At the end of 2021, childcare institutions (crèches, kids’ clubs and day-care providers) were already available in 1,273 communes, representing 51% of all communes in Poland, as compared with 1,131 communes (47%) in 2020 (data from the report of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy). As regards rural communes, at the end of 2021, childcare institutions were available in 558 (36%) of all rural communes, as compared with 483 communes (31%) at the end of 2020.
The data shows that the number of childcare institutions increases each year, as does the number of communes where childcare services are available. However, the pace of changes is still too slow. At the end of 2021, communes and non-public entities in 779 communes (around 31% of all communes in Poland) estimated that they needed around 70,700 childcare places in total, including 60,100 places in crèches, around 4,100 in kids’ clubs, and around 6,500 at day-care providers. Among the communes that declared the need for new childcare places, 271 were rural communes. They reported the need for 4,700 places.
Table 2. Children aged 0–3 years enrolled in childcare settings (based on the Central Statistical Office data)
At the end of 2021, around 28.8% of children aged over 1 year were provided with childcare. Children under 1 year of age in childcare represented only 1.1% of the total population. However, it should be noted that parents themselves most often look after their children under 1 year of age and take parental leave to do so. Furthermore, pursuant to the Act of 4 February 2011 on the Care for Children aged up to 3 years (ustawa o opiece nad dziećmi w wieku do 3 lat), kids’ clubs take children aged over 1 year, which has an impact on this age group as a proportion of the total population enrolled in various childcare settings.
The Ministry of Family and Social Policy expects that the rate of participation in centre-based childcare for children aged up to 3 years will reach 33% by the end of 2030.
Children with a disability and children requiring special care represented around 0.7% of all children enrolled in crèches and kids’ clubs (a decline by 0.2% compared to 2020). .
Children aged 3–6 years
Every child is entitled to receive preschool education from the beginning of the school year in the calendar year when they reach the age of 3 years until the end of the school year in the calendar year when they reach the age of 7 years. Children aged 3–5 years have the right to participate in preschool education in a nursery school, a preschool class in the primary school or another preschool education setting. It is compulsory for 6-year-old children to complete one year of preparatory preschool education.
Nursery schools and schools have not been established in some sparsely populated rural areas owing to the small number of children. Thus, there is still a considerable unsatisfied need in these areas in terms of access to preschool education. Moreover, communes in these areas have very rarely chosen to establish preschool education units or centres close to children’s homes. As provided for in the legislation, communes should establish such alternative preschool education settings in specific demographic and geographical conditions to supplement the network of nursery schools. Like nursery schools, alternative settings can be public or non-public. The establishment and administration of alternative preschool education settings are statutory tasks of the commune. Public preschool education settings can also be administered by legal or natural persons on the basis of a permit issued by the commune concerned. In such cases, they also receive from the commune a grant for each child which is equal to at least 50% of the current expenditure per child in nursery schools administered by the commune.
To administer a non-public alternative preschool education setting, legal and natural persons should be entered onto the Register of Non-Public Schools and Educational Institutions, which is kept by the commune. A grant for a non-public alternative setting is equal to at least 40% of the current expenditure per child incurred by public nursery schools in a given commune.
Like nursery schools, alternative settings implement the national core curriculum for preschool education, and activities / classes with children are run by teachers who have qualifications required for work in a nursery school. Like in the case of nursery schools, the Head of the Regional Education Authorities (kurator oświaty) exercises pedagogical supervision over alternative preschool education settings.
The measures taken by the Ministry of Education and Science to tackle the shortage of ECEC places include:
- development of the network of preschool education institutions, and availability of various preschool education settings for preschool-aged children;
- provision of counselling and guidance (so-called psychological and pedagogical support) to support the development and education of children;
- State-budget financial support for local government units to satisfy preschool education needs at a faster pace.
The rates of participation in preschool education for children aged 3 to 5 years in the school years 2019/2020-2022/2023 were as follows:
Table 3. Preschool education participation rates for children aged 3 to 5 years (based on the data of the Central Statistical Office and the Ministry of Education and Science)
Rural areas (%)
In the school year 2022/2023, the preschool education participation rate for children aged 3-5 years was 90.2%, which indicates an increase of 0.5% compared with 2021/2022.
6-year-olds take the compulsory preparatory preschool education year or may start full-time compulsory education in the first grade of the primary school, as parents are free to choose a preferred education path for their 6-year-old children (preschool education or school education).
In 2022, the number of children participating in preschool education grew to 1,533,400 (an increase of 61,700 from 2021).
Preschool education institutions are attended by a much larger proportion of children aged 3-5 years in urban areas (97.8%) than in rural areas (80.8%). The relatively low participation rate in rural areas results, in particular, from the fact that some children living in rural areas attend preschool education settings in cities (parents commute for work to the city where their children participate in preschool education).
Children aged up to 3 years
Parents are required to cover the costs of their children’s attendance at, and meals provided in, a crèche, a kids’ club or a day-care provider setting (home-based provision). The amount of fees and the maximum amount to be charged for meals are determined by the competent local government bodies (the council of the commune (gmina), the council of the district (powiat) or the council of the regional assembly (sejmik wojewódzki)). The competent body may also lay down conditions for full or partial fee waivers. Fees in crèches and kids’ clubs administered by entities other than local government units are set by the bodies administering such institutions.
A fee for attending a crèche, kids’ club or day-care provider setting may be paid on a monthly or hourly basis.
The statutes of a crèche or kids’ club establish rules for setting fees for attendance and meals during a child’s absence.
Monthly attendance fees in 2021 were, in most cases, within the following range:
- crèches: up to PLN 350 (EUR 78.00) at 20% of crèches; and from PLN 350.01 to 600 (EUR 78.00 to 133.72) at 23%;
- kids’ clubs: from PLN 350.01 to 600 (EUR 78.00 to 133.72 ) at 20% of kids’ clubs; and from PLN 600.01 to 850 (EUR 133.72 to 189.44 ) at 22% ;
- day-care providers: up to PLN 350 (EUR 78.00) at 15% of day-care provider settings, and from PLN 850.01 to 1000 (EUR 189.44 to 222.87) at 16%.
(Based on the Council of Ministers report on the implementation of the Act of 4 February 2011 on the Care for Children aged up to 3 years in 2021) (text in Polish).
Parents usually paid a daily fee for meals. Regardless of the type of childcare setting, fees ranged in most cases from PLN 7.51 to 10 (EUR 1.67 to 2.23) and above PLN 10. The overwhelming majority of childcare institutions charged fees above PLN 10 per day. Thus, in most cases, parents paid per month from PLN 157.71 to 210 (EUR 35.15 to 46.80) and more than PLN 210 (for a child who attends an institution 21 working days per month). (The average exchange rate used throughout this chapter is 1 € = 4.4869 PLN).
Fees for crèches, kids’ clubs and day-care provider settings vary depending on the sector to which entities establishing childcare institutions belong. Fees charged to parents by public-sector entities are lower than those in the private sector as communes (lowest-level local government units) use their own funds to cover a large part of the running costs of places at childcare institutions.
In 2021, local government units allocated PLN 1,110,300 million (over MEUR 248.4) to contribute to the running costs of places for children aged up to 3 years in public institutions. Their contribution in the previous year amounted to PLN 926.8 million (over MEUR 206).
Pursuant to the amended Act on the Care for Children aged up to 3 years (ustawa o opiece nad dziećmi w wieku do 3 lat), financial support, amounting to PLN 400 (EUR 89.15) per month, has been provided since 1 April 2022 to reduce fees for the stay of a child at a crèche, kids’ club or day-care provider setting.
Such financial support is available for a child who attends a crèche, kids’ club or day-care provider setting if they have not received a so-called family care capital grant (rodzinny kapitał opiekuńczy). Family care capital grants aim to cover partially the expenses of raising a child, including caring for and meeting the child’s living needs.
Children are entitled to a family care capital grant from the first day of the month when they reach the age of 12 months till the last day of the month preceding the month when they reach the age of 36 months. The grant amounts to PLN 500 (EUR 111.44) or PLN 1,000 (EUR 222.87) per month and per child in the family.
The total amount of the grant to be paid may not exceed PLN 12,000 (EUR 2,674.45) per child.
Children aged 3–6 years
For children aged 3 years and over, free-of-charge education and care is provided for at least 5 hours a day. Each commune decides the duration of fee-free education and care (not shorter than 5 hours per day). Pursuant to the Act of 27 October 2017 on the Financing of School Education Tasks (ustawa z dnia 27 października 2017 o finansowaniu zadań oświatowych), the maximum amount of the fee that communes could charge to parents from 1 September 2022 was PLN 1.14 (EUR 0.22) for each additional hour of preschool education (beyond the minimum of 5 fee-free hours). The commune can also lay down conditions for full or partial fee waiver. The maximum fee that can be charged since 1 September 2023 is PLN 1.30 (EUR 0.29) For 6-year-olds, preschool education is free of charge regardless of the duration of stay (parents pay for meals only).
In the case of 5-year and 6-year olds, if the distance between the child’s home and the school or nursery school exceeds 3 km, the commune is required to provide free transport to a public nursery school, public alternative preschool education setting or public school with a preschool class, and free care during transport, or to reimburse the costs of public transport.
Public nursery schools can organise various additional classes in, for example, rhythmic gymnastics or an additional foreign language, but may not charge related additional fees (such classes can be taught only as part of the regular fees that did not exceed PLN 1.14, and may not exceed 1.30 since September 2023.