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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of private education


2.Organisation and governance

2.4Organisation of private education

Last update: 10 January 2023

Non-public education in the school education system

The period between the strengthening of the new regime after 1945 and the political breakthrough in 1989 did not provide favourable conditions for the development of non-public (non-state) education. As a rule, it was the state that established, governed and financed schools and other educational institutions. Schools, other educational institutions, care-and-education institutions and other training institutions could be established and administered by professional organisations, youth organisations, civic organisations and other organisations and institutions, including religious ones, but only upon a permit from the minister responsible for education who set rules for administering them and supervised them. Thus, in 1989 only 63 of all 26,358 nursery schools were non-public, including 33 administered by religious congregations. There were also 12 non-public primary schools (18,283 primary schools in total) and 20 non-public upper secondary schools (939 in total) (source: Central Statistical Office, Education 1990/91 / GUS, Szkolnictwo 1990/91). Most of the few entities administering non-public establishments at that time were religious organisations and institutions.

The first ‘civic’ schools emerged at the end of the 1980s. They were called ‘civic’ to distinguish them from public schools and, at the same time, to emphasise that they were not private. Administering a school did not bring profit to their ‘owners’: teachers and parents who set up the Civic Society for Education. Both civic and private (including church-administered) schools developed rapidly between 1990 and 2000. The School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (Ustawa o systemie oświaty z 7 września 1991) created a legislative framework for the expansion of non-public education in Poland.

Currently, schools and other educational institutions may be public or non-public:

  1. Public schools are institutions established and administered by a central government body (the competent minister), a local government unit (gmina, powiat or województwo) or – upon a special permission – by another legal entity or natural person. A public school implements school curricula and complies with the rules for pupil assessment as established by the minister responsible for school education. It provides tuition-free education insofar as classes are included in an outline timetable established by the minister. School admissions are governed by the rules laid down in national legislation.
  2. Non-public schools are institutions established and administered by legal or natural persons upon entry into the register of non-public schools and other educational institutions kept by the relevant local government unit. A non-public school implements the national core curriculum for general education and conducts compulsory classes in accordance with the same rules as public schools. It also applies the rules for the assessment and promotion of pupils and employs teachers who hold required qualifications as laid down by the minister responsible for school education. It may charge tuition fees and enrols pupils in accordance with the rules independently laid down in its statutes.

The right to establish and operate non-public schools is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) (Article 70, section 3). Both public and non-public schools are supervised by the State with regard to the quality of education and the compliance of their activities with national legislation, although supervision is more extensive in the case of public schools than non-public schools (supervision measures for non-public schools are slightly more limited than for public schools). Consequently, the main differences between public and non-public schools are that the former provide tuition-free education and ensure open access, in particular, to primary schools. The State guarantees that the outcomes of the education process are recognised across the country and pupils can automatically move on to other public schools or non-public schools with a similar status.

Preschool education

In the school year 2020/2021, around 1.4 million children participated in preschool education in various settings (an increase by 23,500, that is 1.7% compared to the previous year). Slightly more than 1.1 million children attended 13,200 nursery schools (przedszkole), including around 40% of children in non-public nursery schools, administered, as a rule, by natural persons and legal persons, including religious organisations and various associations. In total, 241,100 children attended 7,600 preschool classes in primary schools. Around 29,100 children were enrolled in around 1,600 other preschool education settings (preschool education units and centres); most of them (over 60%) were enrolled in non-public settings. The rate of participation in preschool education for children aged 3 to 5 years was 92.3%.

Institutions providing care to children below the age of 3 in Poland include crèches, kids’ clubs and day-care providers. Currently, the main legislative act regulating activities of various childcare settings for this age group is the Act of 4 February 2011 on the Care for Children Aged up to 3 Years (ustawa z dnia 4 lutego 2011 r. o opiece nad dziećmi do lat 3). The responsibility for childcare now rests with the Minister of Family and Social Policy. At the end of 2021, there were around 5,000 crèches and kids’ clubs, with crèches and crèche units representing 92%. The number of childcare providers has been steadily growing.  For further details, see Chapter 4: Early Childhood Education and Care.

Primary education

In the school year 2020/2021, there were 14,297 primary schools (szkoła podstawowa), including special schools, for children and young people. In total, there were 14,375 primary schools, including schools for adults. They were attended by over 3 million pupils / learners. The overwhelming majority of schools (12,043, representing 84.2%) were administered by local government units (mainly by communes (gmina), the lowest-level local government unit, for which this is a statutory responsibility); these are public schools. 55 public schools (less than 0.4%) were administered by central government bodies. Other primary schools (mainly but not only non-public ones) were administered by natural persons and legal persons operating on the basis of private law. The non-public sector represented around 15.5% of all institutions and around 6.5% of all pupils in this sub-sector of the school education system.

Starting on 1 September 2017, all (public and non-public) primary schools were transformed from 6-year into 8-year schools on a mandatory basis. Where their administering bodies failed to comply with the requirement, schools were closed down on 31 August 2018.

Non-public primary schools are equal to public schools in terms of their legal status. The requirements for non-public schools are laid down in detail in Article 14, section 3 of the Law on School Education (ustawa – Prawo oświatowe), whereby they should align standards for their educational activity with those set for public schools. Non-public schools are closed where failing to fulfil these requirements.

Non-public schools are eligible to receive public funding either from the budgets of local government units (LGUs) (the commune / gmina or the district / powiat) or directly from the State budget in the case of art schools. A grant is equal to at least 100% of a grant per pupil that LGUs receive from the State budget to subsidise public schools; the grant is much higher for pupils with a disability. Detailed arrangements for the public funding of public and non-public schools are laid down in the Act of 27 October 2017 on the Financing of School Education Tasks (Ustawa z dnia 27 października 2017 r. o finansowaniu zadań oświatowych).

Secondary education for young people and post-secondary non-tertiary education

The school system reform has abolished lower secondary schools (gimnazjum) that were compulsory for all young people aged 13 to 16 years. Lower secondary schools were phased out over several years, with one grade abolished per year, starting with grade I (on 1 September 2017) and ending with grade III (on 1 September 2019). Thus, the cohort of pupils enrolled in grade I in the school year 2016/2017 continued their education in lower secondary schools until 31 August 2019. Like primary schools, lower secondary schools provided full-time compulsory education. As part of the ongoing reform, the education cycle in a primary school has been extended by two years (grades VII and VIII).  

In parallel to the phasing-out of lower secondary schools, the reform extended the duration of education cycles in schools above the lower secondary level, currently referred to as post-primary schools. In the school year 2020/2021, they enrolled slightly more than 1.5 million pupils. The overwhelming majority of post-primary schools for young people are administered by local government units (LGUs) (mainly, districts); the proportion of public schools in this sub-sector ranges from 80 to 85%. In the reference period, there were 3,287 general secondary schools (including 2,319 schools for young people), 1,864 technical secondary schools, 1,668 stage I sectoral vocational schools, 82 stage II sectoral vocational schools and 550 schools preparing for employment.

Post-primary schools also include post-secondary schools. In the school year 2020/2021, there were 1,468 post-secondary schools. Most of them (1,205, 82%) were administered by private sector entities.

Like non-public primary schools, non-public secondary and post-secondary schools are subsidised either by LGU budgets (the district level) or directly by the State budget in the case of art schools.

Detailed statistics on lower and upper secondary schools in Poland are available in Chapter ‘Secondary and Post-Secondary Education’. See also the publication of the Central Statistical Office “Education in the 2020/2021 school year” (GUS, Oświata i wychowanie w roku szkolnym 2018-2019) (with key data in a bilingual, Polish and English, version).


Higher Education – non-public higher education institutions

The legal basis for the establishment of non-public higher education institutions (HEIs) was provided by the Higher Education Act of 12 September 1990 (ustawa o szkolnictwie wyższym). As from the late 1990s, non-public higher vocational education schools (wyższa szkoła zawodowa), authorised to provide only first-cycle (Bachelor's degree) programmes, could also be established on the basis of the Act on Schools of Higher Vocational Education) of 26 June 1997 (ustawa o wyższych szkołach zawodowych). First non-public HEIs, except for several previously existing HEIs administered by churches and other denominational organisations, were registered in 1991. From the early 1990s, the non-public sector expanded rapidly to include 330 HEIs in the academic year 2009/2010. Since then, due to the demographic decline, the number of non-public HEIs has been slowly decreasing. There were 219 non-public HEIs (including 10 denominational / religious institutions) in 2020/2021. In the same academic year, students enrolled in non-public HEIs (367,020) represented 30.2% of the total student population (1,215,300) in the higher education sector. The number of students enrolled varies considerably between individual non-public HEIs. Some of them have several hundred students, while others train several thousand students.

Non-public HEIs are governed by the same legislation as public HEIs. Most of the 219 currently existing non-public HEIs are non-university institutions. Only 10 non-public institutions are university-type HEIs and member institutions of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (CRASP) (Konferencja Rektorów Akademickich Szkół Polskich, KRASP) (which brings together the rectors of university-type HEIs). The first non-public university-type HEI acquired the status of university in 2015.

A non-public HEI is established by its founder – a natural person or a legal person other than a local government unit or a corporate body administered by national or local authorities. A non-public HEI may also be established by a merger of two non-public HEIs. The establishment of a non-public institution requires a permit from the minister responsible for higher education.

Non-public university-type HEIs are eligible to receive funding for their research activity (including capital investment projects in this area) but do not receive funding for the maintenance and development of their teaching capacity or capital investment projects related to teaching. Non-public non-university HEIs are provided with funding for student financial support and support for people with disabilities. Like the other types of HEIs, they can also apply for grants available under programmes and projects managed by the minister responsible for higher education, and for projects funded by international sources.

Non-public HEIs are required to comply with the same requirements for the provision of first, second- and long-cycle programmes and doctoral training as public HEIs. They also award degrees in accordance with the same arrangements (described above) as those for public HEIs. However, unlike public institutions, non-public HEIs charge tuition fees for both full-time and part-time programmes provided. The levels of tuition fees vary greatly, depending on the institution, type of a programme (full-time or part-time), field of study and even on the year of study (no fee for the first semester, lower fees for the first year and higher for the subsequent years)

As far as fields of study are concerned, the overwhelming majority of non-public HEIs offer degree programmes in business and administration, social sciences and related areas.

Adult education and training – private forms of continuing education

Continuing education in non-public schools which do not have the public-school status or in other non-public institutions is essentially private. The costs of tuition are covered by learners or can be covered by the employer in the case of training for employees. Based on the data in the Register of Training Institutions (Rejestru Instytucji Szkoleniowych), there are currently 13,156 providers, including 5,630 registered after 2019. A total of 3,847 registered institutions provides training funded by the European Social Fund; in the previous year, 2,665 institutions provided training courses commissioned by public employment offices, and 3,531 provided support to unemployed persons after the end of a training course; 2,656 hold an accreditation certificate or a quality label.