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Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.4Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Vocational education and training (VET) in Poland has been undergoing major reforms for more than a decade. A number of major changes were introduced in the VET system between 2011 and 2015 to improve its quality and effectiveness and its relevance to the needs of employers and the labour market. The key changes brought by the previous reforms have remained in place. However, the Acts of 14 December 2016, The Law on School Education (Prawo oświatowe) and The Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (Przepisy wprowadzające Prawo oświatowe), and the amendments to the Law on School Education adopted on 22 November 2018 have introduced major organisational changes for VET schools (see below).  

Descriptions of occupations in the revised classification of occupations are based on qualifications. The classification for vocational education covers about 200 occupations. They include over 250 qualifications which are assigned to 32 sectors or branches, based on specific vocational skills or the extent to which such skills are used in performing occupational tasks. One, two or three qualifications are identified within individual occupations, . Moreover, five artistic occupations are identified with no qualifications specified. Pupils and adult learners can acquire qualifications one by one throughout the education process (not only upon finishing the school).

Pupils / learners can take examinations leading to qualifications for an occupation not only at the end of education in school, but also at other stages of education or after the pupil / learner has obtained a specific qualification. Having passed an exam for a given (single) qualification, the pupil / learner receives a certificate for this qualification. After passing exams for all the qualifications required to practise a given occupation (and having completed the required level of education), pupils / learners obtain a vocational diploma.

The system of exams leading to vocational qualifications is sufficiently flexible to allow validation of non-formal and informal learning outcomes. Since September 2012, the system has been open to individuals who have gained vocational knowledge and experience outside vocational schools.

The pre-reform school system, which was in place before 1 September 2017, included, in particular, 3-year basic vocational schools and 4-year technical upper secondary schools. Young people who finished the lower secondary school could continue education in either type of schools. They obtained qualifications to practise occupations as defined for the labour market; additionally, technical upper secondary graduates could take the maturity exam and, upon passing the exam, continue education at a higher education institution. Basic vocational school graduates could only continue education in grade II of a general upper secondary school.

The ongoing reform of the school system has established 3-year stage I sectoral vocational schools which have replaced basic vocational schools. After passing a vocational exam, pupils finishing a stage I sectoral vocational school obtain a vocational diploma, conferring qualifications for specific occupations defined for the labour market. If they wish to do so, they can continue education in:

  • a stage II sectoral vocational school training for an occupation which embraces a qualification common to the occupation for which pupils are trained in stage I and stage II sectoral vocational schools;
  • a general secondary school, starting in grade II.

Thus, the new school system extends the range of learning paths available to vocational school graduates.

The reformed VET system also comprises other institutions which provide wider opportunities to acquire vocational qualifications. In particular:

  • vocational schools can be merged into vocational and continuing education centres (centrum kształcenia zawodowego i ustawicznego) to offer a wider variety of courses and increase opportunities for cooperation with employers;
  • vocational qualification courses are offered to adult learners; these are vocational training courses provided in non-school settings, which enable learners to take exams leading to qualifications for a given occupation.

The changes outlined above aim to simplify the education process, enable pupils / learners to acquire selected qualifications, and make it easier for them to acquire qualifications required to practise new occupations.

For regularly updated information on the reform of the VET system in Poland, see also the chapter ‘Poland: National Reforms in School Education.


Types of institutions

The VET system in Poland includes the following types of vocational secondary schools for young people:

  • 3-year stage I sectoral vocational schools (for pupils aged 15 to 18 years) which replaced 3-year basic vocational schools on 1 September 2017. Pupils who have finished a stage I sectoral vocational school obtain a vocational diploma upon passing a vocational exam, and may continue education in a stage II sectoral vocational school (see above) or in grade II of a general secondary school for adults;
  • 2-year stage II sectoral vocational schools (for pupils aged 19-20 years) established on 1 September 2020. Upon passing a vocational exam for a given occupation, pupils obtain a vocational diploma, with the title of Technician, in an occupation that embraces a qualification common to the occupation for which pupils are trained in a stage I and stage II sectoral vocational school. They may also obtain a maturity certificate upon passing the maturity exam.
  • 5-year technical secondary schools in the new school system (pupils aged 15 to 20 years) where pupils obtain not only a vocational diploma, which confers vocational qualifications for a given occupation upon passing a vocational exam, but also a maturity certificate upon passing the maturity exam. The final cohort of pupils who finished the pre-reform lower secondary school was enrolled in grade I of pre-reform 4-year technical upper secondary schools for the school year 2019/2020. Grades I in the pre-reform schools were abolished in the school year 2020/2021 and the higher grades are gradually being abolished.
  • 3-year schools preparing for employment, which take pupils with a moderate and severe intellectual disability and with multiple disabilities and lead to a certificate confirming preparation for employment (see also the chapter ‘Educational_Support_and_Guidance).  


Geographical accessibility and basic statistical data

Post-primary vocational schools are located primarily in urban areas. Those in rural areas are mainly agricultural schools.

In the school year 2020/2021, there were 1,864 technical secondary schools (including 36 special schools) attended by 647,100 pupils. As compared to the previous school year, both the number of technical secondary schools and the total number of pupils increased slightly (by 1.2% and 0.2% respectively). In the same period, there were 1,668 stage I sectoral vocational schools (including 391 special schools); their number dropped by 2 compared to the previous year. In total, schools of this type had 202,000 pupils (3.4% more than in the previous year). In the same period, there were also 82 stage II sectoral vocational schools for young people (including 2 special schools), with around 1,700 pupils in total.

More detailed statistics in Polish and English are available in the publication of the Central Statistical Office “Education in the 2020/2021 school year”.


Admission requirements and choice of school

See: Admission Requirements and Choice of School in General Upper Secondary Education


Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Pre-reform vocational upper secondary schools for young people trained pupils aged 16 to 19/20 years. With lower secondary schools phased out by 31 August 2019, the school reform at the primary education level has lowered the age of pupils enrolled in sectoral vocational schools to 15 years. At the same time, the duration of the education cycle in technical secondary schools has been extended from 4 to 5 years (thus, ultimately, enrolled pupils will be aged 15 to 20 years).

A class (also referred to as ‘division’ in the national legislation) is the basic organisational unit in schools. It (nominally) groups pupils of the same age who jointly follow the same curriculum under the supervision of teachers. All classes at the same education level are referred to as grades in the national legislation. Roman numerals are used to designate classes and grades (grades I to V in 5-year technical secondary schools, and I to III in 3-year stage I sectoral vocational schools).

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 the school.

The legislation does not define the minimum or maximum numbers of pupils per class. There are exceptions to this rule; for example, the number of pupils per class in integration schools and integration classes of mainstream sectoral vocational schools should range between 15 and 20, including 3 to 5 pupils with a disability.

Where the number of pupils in a class of a sectoral vocational school is high, they should be divided into groups for some classes (for example, Computer science / ICT and Foreign language).

Vocational secondary education is not divided into cycles.


Organization of the school year

See: Organization of the School Year in General Upper Secondary Education


Organization of the school day and week

The weekly number of teaching / class hours for compulsory classes and lessons with the class tutor / teacher is 31-35 in technical secondary schools (technika) (33-36 in bilingual classes); 29-32 in stage I sectoral vocational schools; and between 27 and 30 hours in grades of pre-reform basic vocational school operating as part of new stage I sectoral vocational schools. In addition, the timetable includes Religion or Ethics classes (electives) and hours to be allocated by the school head.

Classes usually start at 8 a.m. and finish around 2-3 p.m. if the school works in one shift (they last longer if the school works in two shifts). Each lesson (period) lasts 45 minutes. Breaks are considered sufficient if they last at least 5 minutes, but no longer than 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. Secondary school pupils attend classes on 5 days a week (from Monday to Friday), although where justified, it is possible to extend the school week to 6 days in individual schools. This option is, however, rarely chosen in practice.