Poland has successfully developed a model of education with relatively high participation rates, as compared to EU countries, in education at all of the ISCED 4-7 levels (from upper secondary education to second-cycle programmes in higher education) for young people, and with a large proportion of young people holding at least an upper secondary qualification. The results of PISA surveys show that Poland is currently at the forefront of EU countries in terms of pupils’ achievements in reading, mathematics and science. Between 2000 and 2014, it was among the EU countries with the fastest growing number of young adults in the 30-34 age group holding a higher education qualification.
Most of the school education tasks at the preschool up to upper secondary school levels were handed over to local authorities at the commune (gmina) or district (powiat) level. This was combined with the expansion of the non-public school education sector, which now has very extensive autonomy while benefitting from public funding. A high degree of autonomy of schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) (also in the public sector) is guaranteed by the law. The principles underlying the European Qualifications Framework have been implemented, which facilitates comparison of learning outcomes between schools and their transfer abroad.
All these achievements were made possible by, among other things, a fairly modern legislative framework for education. The 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland (Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) of 1997 (Art. 70) grants the right to education to all and, at the same time, provides for the obligation to continue education until the age of 18. This obligation is carried out in school (full-time compulsory education) or non-school settings (part-time compulsory education) (see below).
Between 2017/2018 and 2023/2024, a reform of the Polish school system has been underway, based on two key Acts passed in December 2016: the Law on School Education (Prawo oświatowe) and the Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (Przepisy wprowadzające prawo oświatowe). They have largely replaced the School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (Ustawa o systemie oświaty).
The main change involves replacing the previously existing 6-year primary school and 3-year lower secondary school (6+3), leading to upper secondary education in 3- or 4-year schools, with the single 8-year primary school and proportional extension of the duration of education in (upper) secondary schools to 4-5 years. The change has partly re-established the model that had been in place in Poland before the school system reform of 1999/2000.
Polish education is gradually – though not without difficulties – opening up to non-formal education and continuing education. Since September 2012, the system of external vocational examinations has been open to individuals who have acquired vocational knowledge and skills outside vocational schools. Changes introduced since October 2014 facilitate the validation of learning outcomes achieved outside the higher education system. The process of implementing the European Qualifications Framework in Poland, which had been underway for several years, was completed at the end of 2015 (Act of 22 December 2015 on the Integrated Qualifications System / Ustawa z dnia 22 grudnia 2015 r. o Zintegrowanym Systemie Kwalifikacji). The new legislation, already adopted or currently being drafted, follows the same direction. The vocational education and training system was radically reformed in 2018 to adapt it to labour market needs.