Types of institutions
Currently, general secondary education (ISCED 3) – without a vocational education strand offered in parallel – is provided in general secondary schools (liceum ogólnokształcące) where pupils can take the maturity exam and obtain a maturity certificate. There are also secondary schools which provide only vocational education or vocational education in parallel to general education. These include, in particular, technical secondary schools and stage I and stage II sectoral vocational schools; for further details, see the next section.
General secondary schools take young people aged 15 to 19 years. Pre-reform general upper secondary schools (for pupils who finished the pre-reform lower secondary school) provided 3-year programmes. In the new school system, based on compulsory education in the 8-year primary school, the duration of the education cycle in general secondary schools has been extended to 4 years. New, post-reform, 4-year general secondary schools began to operate on 1 September 2019.
The Polish education system also includes general secondary schools for adults.
Nearly all general secondary schools (around 90% in the school year 2020/2021) are located in urban areas. Thus, the accessibility of schools for young people from rural areas depends on the distance between their place of residence and the nearest city or town. Costs of commuting to schools are covered mainly by parents.
In the school year 2020/2021, there were 3,287 general secondary schools, including 968 (29.5%) schools for adults. They were attended by around 7,444,500 pupils and learners (including around 643,700 young people).
Detailed statistics are available in the publication “Education in the 2020/2021 school year” (text in Polish and English).
Admission requirements and choice of school
A post-primary school is one of many settings where young people can participate in part-time compulsory education until they reach the age of 18. In principle, there are no restrictions regarding the choice of a post-primary school for young people. Grades I of post-primary schools, including general secondary schools, take applicants who hold a primary school leaving certificate. The decision to apply for admission to a given school is taken by pupils and their parents. Where the number of applicants is higher than the number of available places, schools take into account, in particular, the results of the eighth-grader exam and the marks for the Polish language, Mathematics and two compulsory subjects / types of classes in the primary school certificate. The two compulsory subjects / types of classes are selected by the school head as those to be taken into account in the process of admission to a given class of the school.
In the transition period when the new school system is being established, the legislative framework for admission to public general secondary schools is set mainly by the Act - Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (ustawa – przepisy wprowadzajace Prawo oświatowe).
Winners of regional-level knowledge competitions, which cover all or extend beyond contents of the core curriculum for at least one school subject, are enrolled in the post-primary school of their choice regardless of the criteria applied to other applicants.
Age levels and grouping of pupils/students
A class (also referred to as ‘division’ in the national legislation) is the basic organisational unit in a post-primary school (upper secondary school in the pre-reform system, and secondary school in the post-reform system). It (nominally) groups pupils of the same age who jointly follow the same curriculum under the supervision of teachers. All classes at the same level are referred as grades in the national legislation. Roman numerals are used to designate classes and grades (I to III in a pre-reform general upper secondary school until 1 September 2019; grades I to IV in a post-reform general secondary school since 1 September 2019).
Grouping into classes is based on the age of pupils as the basic criterion and, where applicable, on the promotion of the pupil to the next grade. Each class is supervised by a class tutor / teacher. As a rule, a given teacher holds this function throughout the period of education in school.
The legislation does not define the minimum or maximum numbers of pupils per class. Regulations on special and integration general secondary schools (for pupils with a disability or socially maladjusted pupils), based on the School Education Act (ustawa o systemie oświaty), provide for some exceptions. For example, the number of pupils per class in integration schools and classes should range between 15 and 20, including3 to 5 pupils with a disability.
For some school activities or classes, pupils are further divided into groups, based on arrangements similar to those in primary schools.
Secondary education is not divided into cycles.
Organization of the school year
Classes in the school year in general secondary schools are divided into two semesters:
- the first one lasting from the first day of classes (the first working day of September) till the last Saturday preceding the winter break;
- the second one from the Monday directly after the winter break till the last day of classes (the last Friday in June).
There are some exceptions. The main one concerns the highest grade as the maturity exam is conducted after the completion of the final year of education. Thus, classes in the second semester for the final grade end as early as on the last Friday in April.
The dates of the winter break vary among the provinces in Poland. The winter holidays are scheduled between mid-January and the end of February, and last for two weeks. The Head of the Regional Education Authorities (kurator oświaty) determines the exact timing of the winter break in agreement with the governor of a given province. Schools in Poland also have Christmas and Easter breaks lasting a few days.
Detailed information on the organisation of the school year (start and end dates of the school year, summer holidays and winter breaks with geographical variations, and public/religious holidays) is available in the annually updated Eurydice publication “The Organisation of School Time in Europe. Primary and General Secondary Education 2021/22”
Organization of the school day and week
Post-reform 4-year general secondary schools, which take pupils who have finished the new 8-year primary school, follow the regulations based on the Law on School Education (ustawa z dnia 14 grudnia 2016 r. – Prawo oświatowe). Pursuant to the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 3 April 2019 on the outline timetables for public schools (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 3 kwietnia 2019 r. w sprawie ramowych planów nauczania dla publicznych szkół), the weekly number of hours for compulsory classes and lessons with the class tutor in a general secondary school is as follows:
- Grade I: 30, and 33 in bilingual classes
- Grade II: 34, and 37 in bilingual classes
- Grade III: 32, and 35 in bilingual classes
- Grade IV: 25 hours, and 27 in bilingual classes
Classes usually start at 8 a.m. and finish around 2-3 p.m. if the school works in one shift (they finish later if the school works in two shifts). Each lesson (period) lasts 45 minutes. Breaks usually last between 5 and 25 minutes. The duration of the school day also depends on the size of the school building, the number of classrooms and other facilities for after-school activities. Pupils go to school on five days a week (from Monday to Friday). Pursuant to the legislation, the school week can be extended to 6 days. However, this requires a reasoned decision taken by the school head after consultation with the school governing bodies, and this option is rarely chosen in practice.