The Constitution of the Republic of Poland (Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) provides the main legal basis for the school education and higher education systems. Its provisions referring to fundamental freedoms and citizens' rights state that:
- every person has the right to education; education is compulsory until the age of 18;
- education in public schools is tuition-free; an Act of Parliament may allow public higher education institutions (HEIs) to charge fees for educational services;
- parents are free to choose schools other than public for their children; citizens and institutions have the right to establish schools and HEIs;
- public authorities provide citizens with general and equal access to education; towards this end, they establish and support individual financial and organisational support systems for pupils and students;
- the autonomy of HEIs is ensured in accordance with the principles laid down in an Act of Parliament.
The education system is divided into school education (all education levels below the level of higher education) and higher education.
The school education system is governed by the following legislative acts:
- Act of 14 December 2016, The Law on School Education (Ustawa z 14 grudnia 2016 r. – Prawo oświatowe) (amended by the Acts of 21 April 2017 and 10 May 2018)
- Act of 14 December 2016, The Provisions introducing the Law on School Education(Ustawa z 14 grudnia 2016 r. – Przepisy wprowadzające ustawę – Prawo oświatowe) (amended by the Acts of 21 April 2017 and 27 October 2017)
- School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (Ustawa z 7 września 1991 r. o systemie oświaty) (as subsequently amended)
- Act of 27 October 2017 on the Financing of School Education Tasks (Ustawa z 27 października 2017 r. o finansowaniu zadań oświatowych) (as subsequently amended)
- Act of 26 January 1982, The Teachers’ Charter (Ustawa z 26 stycznia 1982 r. - Karta Nauczyciela) (as subsequently amended).
In particular, the school education system should:
- ensure that all citizens can exercise their right to education, and that children and young people can exercise their right to education and care;
- support the family’s educational role;
- educate children and young people – this is understood broadly as providing support for children and young people in their physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social development towards full maturity, reinforced and supplemented by measures aimed at preventing problems which they may face;
- enable various entities to establish and administer schools and other educational institutions;
- adapt contents, methods and the organisation of the teaching and learning process to pupils’ psychological and physical abilities; and provide them with counselling and guidance and special teaching support where needed;
- enable disabled and socially maladjusted children and young people and those at risk of social maladjustment to receive education in all types of schools, in line with their individual developmental and educational needs and abilities;
- provide care to disabled pupils by enabling them to follow individualised learning paths, arrangements and curricula and rehabilitation classes;
- provide care to particularly gifted pupils through individualised curricula and arrangements enabling them to complete education within a shorter period of time;
- ensure wide access to schools where the completion of programmes enables pupils to take up study in higher education;
- provide opportunities for adults to supplement their general education, acquire or change professional and specialist qualifications;
- reduce educational inequalities between regions of the country, and especially between urban and rural areas;
- develop pupils’ prosocial attitudes by providing them, for example, with opportunities for voluntary service which encourages their active participation in social life;
- encourage children and young people to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for active participation in national and world culture and art;
- ensure safety and hygiene for pupils;
- promote principles of sustainable development, and develop attitudes supporting their implementation at local, national and global levels;
- raise the awareness among children and young people of healthy dietary practices and practices in food waste prevention;
- provide care to pupils facing a difficult financial situation or other difficult situations in their life;
- adapt the subject areas and contents of education to labour market needs;
- promote entrepreneurial attitudes among pupils which encourage active participation in economic life through, among other things, the use of innovative curricular, organisational or methodological approaches in the teaching and learning process;
- prepare pupils for the choice of a career and field of study;
- provide conditions for developing pupils’ interests and talents by organising extra-curricular and after-school activities;
- provide safety education to children and young people and develop their proper attitudes to threats, including those related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), and in emergency situations;
- develop pupils’ ICT skills;
- support the teaching of the Polish language and in the Polish language in the Polish diaspora and among Poles living abroad and children of migrant workers.
The Law on School Educationdefines key principles for the following areas:
- division of powers and responsibilities in the administration and management of public schools and other educational institutions at central, regional and local levels, and rights of school heads, teachers, pupils and parents;
- establishment and administration of public and non-public schools and institutions;
- participation in full-time and part-time compulsory education;
- admission to public schools and institutions;
- organisation of education in public schools and institutions;
- pedagogical supervision;
- education for pupils with special educational needs (SEN);
- continuing education for adults;
- establishment of initial and in-service teacher training institutions.
TheSchool Education Act, largely replaced by the Law on School Education, still includes provisions (which were in force before 2017) concerning:
- the assessment, classification and promotion of pupils in public and non-public schools;
- the external examination system (including the eight-grader exam, the maturity exam and vocational exams);
- the implementation of preschool and school curricula, and the approval of textbooks and use of educational resources and exercise materials in schools;
- financial support for pupils.
TheAct on the Financing of School Education Taskslays down arrangements concerning public financial support for non-public schools and institutions, and the rules for subsiding other public school-education tasks (textbooks) and the reimbursement of related expenses for the local government units concerned.
The higher education system in Poland is regulated by the following basic legislative acts:
- Act of 20 July 2018, The Law on Higher Education and Science (Ustawa z dnia 20 lipca 2018 r. - Prawo o szkolnictwie wyższym i nauce) (Journal of Law 2018, item 1668)
- Act of 3 July 2018, The Provisions introducing the Law on Higher Education and Science (Ustawa z dnia 3 lipca 2018 r. - Przepisy wprowadzające ustawę - Prawo o szkolnictwie wyższym i nauce) (Journal of Law 2018, item 1669)
- Act of 7 July 2017 on the National Agency for Academic Exchange (Ustawa z dnia 7 lipca 2017 r. o Narodowej Agencji Wymiany Akademickiej) (Journal of Law 2017, item 1530)
- Act of 22 December 2015 on the Integrated Qualifications System (Ustawa z dnia 22 grudnia 2015 r. o Zintegrowanym Systemie Kwalifikacji) (Journal of Law 2016, item 64)
- Act of 22 December 2015 on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications acquired in the Member States of the European Union (Ustawa z dnia 22 grudnia 2015 r. o zasadach uznawania kwalifikacji zawodowych nabytych w państwach członkowskich Unii Europejskiej) (Journal of Law 2016, item 65)
- Act of 30 April 2010 on the National Centre for Research and Development (Ustawa z dnia 30 kwietnia 2010 r. o Narodowym Centrum Badań i Rozwoju) (Journal of Law 2010, No. 96, item 616)
- Act of 30 April 2010 on the National Science Centre (Ustawa z dnia 30 kwietnia 2010 r. o Narodowym Centrum Nauki) (Journal of Law 2010, No. 96, item 617)
Pursuant to the Law on Higher Education and Science, higher education institutions (HEIs) carry out a mission of special importance to the state and nation: they make a crucial contribution to the innovativeness of the economy and contribute to the development of culture and moral standards for public life.
The following fundamental principles for HEIs are laid down in the Law:
- HEIs enjoy autonomy in accordance with the principles laid down by the Law.
- Activities of HEIs are governed by the principles of freedom of teaching, freedom of research and freedom of artistic creativity.
- In fulfilling their mission of discovering and conveying the truth through the conduct of research and the teaching of students, HEIs constitute an integral part of the national education and research system.
- HEIs co-operate with their socio-economic environment, in particular in conducting research and development activities for economic stakeholders, through separate forms of activity, and through the involvement of their staff in the development of curricula and the teaching process.
- Central and local government bodies may take decisions concerning HEIs only in cases provided for in Acts of Parliament.
In particular, HEIs have the right to:
- conduct research activity, provide research services and transfer knowledge and technology to the economy;
- co-operate with other academic and research units, including international ones, in the area of research and development, and may also establish federations for this purpose;
- support research activities conducted by junior researchers;
- train and promote academic staff;
- provide first-, second- and long-cycle programmes and doctoral training according to the type of authorisation granted; this includes:
- establishing admission conditions and procedures, including the number of places available to students, except in medicine and dentistry insofar as admission in these fields is regulated by legislation;
- developing study plans and curricula, based on learning outcomes, defined in the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education, for the academic areas specified in the legislation;
- provide non-degree post-graduate programmes, specialist programmes and in-service training courses;
- award diplomas conferring Bachelor’s degrees /licencjat or inżynier/ and Master’s degrees /magister/ (referred to as ‘professional titles’), and certificates of completion of specialist programmes, post-graduate programmes and in-service training courses.
Authorised bodies or units of an HEI can also confer doctoral and post-doctoral degrees (doktor and doktor habilitowany, respectively), and apply for the title of professor (profesor) to be conferred to their academic staff in accordance with the rules laid down by the Law.
There is no single Act governing adult education and training as a whole. Relevant provisions are included in the School Education Act and the Law on Higher Education and Science.
Moreover, arrangements for the training of unemployed people and job seekers are laid down in the Act of 20 April 2004 on the Promotion of Employment and Labour Market Institutions(Ustawa z dnia 20 kwietnia 2004 r. o promocji zatrudnienia i instytucjach rynku pracy). The Act provides the basis for keeping the Register of Training Institutions. Institutions applying for public funding to provide training to the unemployed and job seekers should be entered onto the Register. In the second quarter of 2021, 13,156 training institutions were included in the Register.