Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting
Since the 2017/2018 school year, public nursery schools have taken children in accordance with the admission rules set in the Law on School Education (Prawo oświatowe). Decisions are taken by parents, who, in most cases, choose institutions within the area of their commune (lowest-level local government unit). The age of a child is the main criterion: children should have reached 3 years of age. In special cases, younger children aged at least 2.5 years may be enrolled upon the consent of the nursery school’s head (a change introduced by an amendment to the School Education Act (ustawa o systemie oświaty) in 2003.
The Law on School Education states that the procedure for admission to public nursery schools is initiated by the parents submitting an application to the head of the chosen institution; parents can submit an application to up to 3 nursery schools. In nursery schools that are particularly attractive to parents for various reasons, where the demand exceeds the number of available places, an admission process comprises up to 3 stages.
In the first stage, the nursery school admits children who are required to participate in preschool education (6-year-olds) and children aged 3–5 years who live within the area of the commune that administers a given school. Children fulfilling these criteria have the statutory right to participate in preschool education, and the commune is required by law to provide a place to them.
In the second stage, if the number of children from the commune exceeds the number of available places, the nursery school applies (for the first group of applicant children) a set of criteria that are laid down by the national legislation and refer to a difficult family situation or health problems (all with the same weighting). The criteria include the following:
- there are a large number of children in the applicant child’s family;
- the applicant child has a disability;
- one parent of the applicant child has a disability;
- both parents of the applicant child have a disability;
- the applicant child’s siblings have a disability;
- the applicant child is being raised by a single parent;
- the applicant child is in foster care.
In the third stage, if the number of children from families that require special care from the state, as per the above criteria, is still higher than the number of available places, the nursery school applies (for the second group of applicant children) a set of local criteria specified by the commune. The criteria refer to the needs of the family and local community or, where necessary, to the financial situation (income) of the family.
Public nursery schools that still have vacant places after taking all children from their own commune can enrol children from other communes, at their parents’ request. Where necessary, for applicants from outside the commune, they may apply admission criteria relating, first of all, to a difficult family situation or health problems, and then to the needs of the family and local community and, where appropriate, the financial situation of the family.
Pursuant to the Law on School Education, where the commune does not provide places to all children who are required or have the right to participate in preschool education, it should publish an open call for tenders for non-public nursery schools (and, subsequently, for other non-public preschool education settings). The selected non-public nursery schools receive grants from the commune budget equal to 100 % of the current expenditure per pupil in public nursery schools administered by the commune. Then, they charge fees and provide free-of-charge education and care for the same number of hours as nursery schools administered by the commune.
The uneven distribution of places in the network of preschool education institutions remains an issue. There still are communes which have no public nursery school. This limits access to preschool education, in particular, in rural areas. For example, only 70.5% of 3-year-olds in rural areas participate in preschool education, whereas the participation rate in urban areas is 91.2%.
Group size and child–staff ratios
Age is the criterion most often used to group children. Most nursery schools are divided into four grades (groups for 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds). Children of a similar age are also sometimes grouped according to their needs, interests and abilities.
It is also possible to group children of different ages (a so-called family group) for educational reasons, as mixing with children of various ages stimulates their individual development. In rural areas, mixed-age groups are also created for demographic reasons (that is, a small number of children). Nursery schools in rural areas usually have two groups (6-year-olds and other children) or one group only.
The number of children per group may not exceed 25, except in integration nursery schools and preschool classes where the limit is lower. In integration nursery schools and preschool classes, the maximum number of children is 20, including up to 5 children with a disability. In alternative preschool education settings (preschool education units and preschool education centres), a group has 3 to 25 children.
As a rule, two teachers working in shifts supervise one group (one until noon and the other in the afternoon).
A Regulation issued in March 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, allows preschool education groups to have additionally up to 3 children (with a maximum total number of 28 children per group) who are Ukrainian nationals and entered the territory of Poland directly from Ukraine in connection with the hostilities on its the territory. In the school year 2023/2024, it will no longer be possible to establish preschool education groups with a higher number of children (up to 28).
Based on the School Education Information System data, in the school year 2022/2023, 43,246 children from Ukraine participated in preschool education (including over 36,000 in urban areas).
Annual, weekly and daily organisation
Nursery schools are open throughout the school year, except for breaks established by the school’s administering body at the joint request of the head and the council of the nursery school, or at the joint request of the head and the parents’ council, where a nursery school council is not in place. Likewise, preschool classes in primary schools run throughout the school year, except for breaks established by the school’s administering body.
Alternative preschool education settings include preschool education units, which work on some days of the week throughout the school year, and preschool education centres which are open all days of the week throughout the school year, except for breaks established by their administering bodies. Since they provide education and care for a limited time, preschool education units are not an attractive option for entities providing preschool education or parents (in the 2022/2023 school year, they represented only 0.2% of all preschool education institutions).
Organisation of the day and week
The minimum working time for nursery schools and preschool classes in primary schools is 5 hours per day. Most nursery schools are open for around 9 hours a day. Nursery schools, preschool classes in primary schools and preschool centres are open 5 days a week. The organisation of work in nursery schools is based on an overall timetable.
The head of a nursery school establishes the overall timetable, taking into consideration the principles of healthcare and hygiene for learning, education and care; children’s needs, interests and abilities; types of disability; and parents’ expectations. Based on the overall timetable, the teacher responsible for a class/group prepares a detailed timetable, taking into consideration the needs and interests of children. During the day, children participate in activities organised or inspired by the teacher and engage spontaneously in play activities in the classroom or garden. The duration of organised classes/activities in a nursery school depends on the age of children. It should be adjusted to children’s developmental capacities.
Classes in preschool education units take place on some days of the week, and classes in preschool education centres are conducted every day. The minimum working time for these two types of preschool education setting is 3 hours per day and 12 hours per week. The working time depends on the number of children (the larger the number of children, with the maximum of 25, the higher the weekly number of hours; for example, the working time may not be shorter than 25 hours per week for 21 to 25 children attending the setting).