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Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

Poland

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

Last update: 3 July 2023

Types of schools

Since 1 September 2017, the reform of the school education system has gradually abolished the model of education referred to as ‘6+3+3’. Lower secondary schools have been replaced with 8-year primary schools which cover two levels: ISCED 1 (primary education) and ISCED 2 (lower secondary education). This is combined with a far-reaching reform of upper secondary education. The current model of education can be briefly described as ‘8+4 (+5)’ (a 4-year education cycle in general secondary schools; a longer, 5-year education cycle in vocational secondary schools). The new system will be fully in place in the school year 2022/2023. See also the information updated on an ongoing basis in the chapter ‘Poland: National_Reforms_in_School_Education’.

The transformation of the secondary education model in Poland is described below.  

(1) Lower secondary school existing before the reform, education stage III

  • Pre-reform 3-year lower secondary schools (gimnazjum), leading to the final exam that gave access to upper secondary education, were phased out to establish the new school system.  As part of the phase-out process, no new pupils were enrolled in lower secondary schools. Grade I of the lower secondary school was replaced with grade VII of the new primary school, and pupils in grade VII of the primary school continued their education based on a new core curriculum for general education. Pursuant to the Act – Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (ustawa – przepisy wprowadzające Prawo oświatowe) (Art. 127), grade I of the lower secondary school was abolished on 1 September 2017, grade II on 1 September 2018, and grade III on 1 September 2019. Consequently, the phase-out process has already been completed. The last lower secondary school exam was conducted in the school year 2018/2019.
  • The system based on the 8-year primary school no longer makes a formal distinction between primary and lower secondary education; the 8-year primary school covers two levels: ISCED 1 (primary education) and ISCED 2 (lower secondary education). At the end of primary / single-structure education, all pupils now take the compulsory eighth-grader exam, which fully corresponds to the final lower-secondary school exam in terms of its function.

(2) Transformation of upper secondary schools existing before the reform, education stage IV, into secondary (post-primary) schools, education stage III in the new school system

  • On 1 September 2017, pre-reform 3-year basic vocational schools (zasadnicza szkoła zawodowa) were transformed into a new type of school: stage I sectoral vocational schools (szkoła branżowa I stopnia). Pupils finishing the new school will receive a diploma upon passing vocational exams. They can continue education either 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 schools, or in a general upper secondary school for adults, starting in grade II. However, stage I sectoral vocational schools continue to provide training as in the pre-reform basic vocational schools until the cohorts of pupils enrolled in the previous school system complete their education.
  • On 1 September 2019, 3-year general upper secondary schools (liceum ogólnokształcące), where pupils can obtain a maturity certificate (świadectwo maturalne) upon passing the maturity exam (egzamin maturalny), were transformed into a new type of school: 4-year general secondary schools
  • On 1 September 2019, 4-year technical upper secondary schools (technikum), where pupils can obtain a diploma upon passing vocational exams and can also take the maturity exam and obtain a maturity certificate, were transformed into 5-year technical secondary schools.
  • On 1 September 2020, 2-yearstage II sectoral vocational schools(szkoła branżowa II stopnia) were established. Upon passing a vocational exam, pupils can obtain a Technician diploma; the diploma confers vocational qualifications for an occupation that embraces a qualification common to the occupation for which pupils are trained in stage I and stage II schools. Pupils can also obtain a maturity certificate upon passing the maturity exam.
  • The education system will continue to include 3-year special schools preparing for employment that take pupils with a moderate or severe intellectual disability and pupils with multiple disabilities, and award a diploma confirming preparation for employment (see also Educational Support and Guidance).

(3) Post-secondary schools (providing post-secondary non-tertiary education)

  • Post-secondary schools (szkoła policealna) for pupils who have completed upper secondary education in the pre-reform system (or secondary education in the post-reform system), which offer vocational programmes lasting from 1 to 2.5 years and award diplomas to those who have passed vocational exams. Pre-reform schools were reorganised on 1 September 2017 to fit into the legal framework for the new school system.

Art schools

Art schools in Poland form a separate structure in organisational terms. They are supervised by the minister responsible for culture and national heritage. See also the chapter ‘Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures’.

 

Core curriculum for general education in secondary schools

The core curriculum for general education is one of the key legal instruments for the management of school education in Poland. Pupils who finished a lower secondary school in the pre-reform school education structure, which had been in place before 1 September 2017, continue to follow the core curriculum established by the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 27 August 2012) on the core curriculum for preschool education and general education in individual types of schools (last amended on 17 June 2016) (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 27 sierpnia 2012 r. w sprawie podstawy programowej wychowania przedszkolnego oraz kształcenia ogólnego w poszczególnych typach szkół)

On 1 September 2019, new types of 4-year general secondary and 5-year technical secondary schools (post-primary schools) were established. Thus, new schools were set up or pre-reform upper secondary schools were formally transformed into the corresponding types of new secondary schools. On 1 September 2020, stage II sectoral vocational schools were established as entirely new institutions; they take pupils who have finished stage I sectoral vocational schools. 

However, pupils who have finished pre-reform lower secondary schools continue their education in the ‘old-model’ technical secondary schools, which operate alongside new secondary schools (usually, as separate organisational units within the new school system). Grade I of the pre-reform 3-year general secondary school and 4-year technical school was abolished on 1 September 2020 and the higher grades are being gradually abolished.

The core curriculum for general education in the new types of schools is laid down in the following regulations based on the Law on School Education (ustawa – Prawo oświatowe):

The 2017 Regulation covers the education cycles first affected by the school system reform. The 2018 Regulation was issued separately as the impact of legislative changes on post-primary schools was delayed by two years. It can be expected, however, that once the reform process is completed, a consolidated legislative act will be passed to include core curricula for general education in all types of schools.

The core curriculum for vocational education in the new types of schools (including sectoral vocational schools, 5-year technical secondary schools and post-secondary schools) is established by the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 16 May 2019 on the core curricula for vocational sector-based education and additional vocational skills for selected occupations identified within vocational sector-based education (rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 16 maja 2019 r. w sprawie podstaw programowych kształcenia w zawodach szkolnictwa branżowego oraz dodatkowych umiejętności zawodowych w zakresie wybranych zawodów szkolnictwa branżowego). The corresponding core curriculum for schools operating within the pre-reform system, currently being phased out, is laid down in the Regulation of the Minister of Education of 7 February 2012 on the core curriculum for vocational education). (rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 7 lutego 2012 r. w sprawie podstawy programowej kształcenia w zawodach).  

In the 2017 core curriculum, the aims of general education in stage I sectoral vocational schools include preparing pupils to acquire vocational qualifications and, as for the other types of schools, for work and life in the contemporary world. General education in a stage I sectoral vocational school initiates the process of lifelong learning. In addition to providing vocational training, a stage I sectoral vocational school should provide pupils with a body of general knowledge which lays the foundation of education, enabling learners further on to acquire various vocational qualifications and continue education in a stage II sectoral vocational schools and, subsequently, enhance and adapt knowledge. General education in a stage I sectoral vocational school aims to enable pupils to (1) acquire a body of knowledge covering facts, rules, theories and practices; (2) acquire the ability to use the knowledge gained in carrying out tasks and solving problems; (3) develop attitudes which are necessary for efficient and responsible functioning in the contemporary world.

Separate annexes to the Regulation of the Minister of National Education of 30 January 2018 (Rozporządzenie Ministra Edukacji Narodowej z dnia 30 stycznia 2018 r. w sprawie podstawy programowej kształcenia ogólnego dla liceum ogólnokształcącego, technikum oraz branżowej szkoły II stopnia) lay down the core curricula for general education in:

  • 4-year general secondary schools and 5-year technical secondary schools;
  • stage II sectoral vocational schools for pupils who have finished pre-reform lower secondary schools;
  • stage II sectoral vocational schools for pupils who have finished post-reform 8-year primary schools.

The structure of the core curricula is complex as they need to embrace structural differences between the pre-reform and post-reform school systems, which are reflected in, for example, a different allocation of some learning requirements for pupils who have finished pre-reform lower secondary schools and post-reform 8-year primary schools.

The new core curriculum for the 4-year general secondary school and the 5-year technical secondary school (established by the aforementioned Regulation of 30 January 2018) considers general education in a post-primary school as a coherent whole in curricular terms. It lays foundations for education, enabling pupils to acquire various qualifications for future employment and, subsequently, to upgrade or modify them; in this way, it initiates the lifelong learning process. General education in a general secondary school and a technical secondary school aims to:

  1. treat structured and systematic knowledge as the basis for skills development;
  2. improve thinking and language skills such as reading comprehension; creative writing; formulating questions and problems; using criteria; substantiating judgements; explaining; classifying; reasoning; defining; using examples, etc.;
  3. develop personal interests and integrate subject-area knowledge gained in various disciplines;
  4. develop skills to formulate independent and considered judgments, and substantiate one’s own and other people’s judgments in the process of dialogue within a community of enquiry;
  5. combine critical and logical thinking skills with imagination and creativity skills;
  6. develop social, moral and aesthetic sensitivity;
  7. develop thinking tools which enable pupils to commune with, and understand, culture;
  8. develop pupils’ respect for knowledge, arouse their passion for exploring the world, and encourage them to apply in practice the knowledge gained.   

The list of skills to be acquired by pupils in the new secondary (post-primary) schools essentially overlaps with the skills listed in the 2012 core curriculum for pre-reform education stage IV (upper secondary schools). Pupils are expected to acquire, for example, ICT skills, which include respect for copyrights and safety in cyberspace; skills necessary to retrieve, select, combine and judge the value of information, and use sources in a reliable way; and skills for communication in the national language and foreign languages, including both speaking and writing skills.

Based on the arrangements in place since 1 September 2019, the level of competences to be acquired by the end of a given education stage, as set out in the core curriculum, is assessed by external examination boards through the maturity exam:

  • at the end of education stage III for pupils who finish secondary schools operating in the post-reform system since 1 September 2019;
  • at the end of education stage IV for pupils who finish the pre-reform 3-year general secondary school or 4-year technical upper secondary school, after having finished the pre-reform lower secondary school.

Reforms of the vocational education and training (VET) system

The previously existing VET model was based on two types of schools: 4-year technical upper secondary schools (technikum) and 3-year basic vocational schools (zasadnicza szkoła zawodowa). They led to qualifications for specific occupations, defined in line with labour market needs; technical upper secondary school pupils could also take the maturity exam and continue education in a higher education institution. Pupils could also obtain vocational qualifications and a diploma after passing vocational qualification exams for some occupations at the end of the education cycle in post-secondary schools (upper secondary schools). 

Significant changes in the VET system in Poland were introduced for the first time in 2011 and 2012. The reform aimed primarily to improve the quality and effectiveness of the VET system and its relevance to labour market needs. The following changes were introduced:

  • The classification of occupations was modified; individual qualifications were identified within a given occupation, and the process of acquiring qualifications was spread over the entire duration of the education cycle in school (rather than taking place only at its end).
  • A new core curriculum or vocational education (training for specific occupations) was developed and implemented.
  • The system of exams for vocational qualifications was revised to make it more flexible and open to validation of non-formal and informal learning, in line with the models promoted in EU legislation.
  • Many organisational changes were introduced.

The Acts of 14 December 2016, including the Law on School Education (Prawo oświatowe) and the Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (Przepisy wprowadzające Prawo oświatowe), changed the structure of VET. The VET reform initiated on 1 September 2017 aims to extend the range of learning paths for young people who have finished the new 8-year primary school by establishing stage I and stage II sectoral vocational schools (2+3 years of education):

  • Stage I sectoral vocational schools enable pupils to obtain a vocational diploma and complete basic training for a given sector / trade. Pupils finishing the school will be prepared to take up employment.
  • Stage II sectoral vocational school enables interested pupils who have finished a stage I school to continue education, obtain a Technician diploma and take the maturity exam. This option was not available to pupils who finished a basic vocational school in the pre-reform school system that was in place before 1 September 2017.

The new school system will keep the key achievements of the previous reform. These include, for example, individual qualifications identified within occupations listed for VET, and the adaptation of the vocational exam for a given occupation to various, formal and non-formal, learning paths through which such qualifications may be acquired (see above).

Major amendments to the Law on School Education, adopted on 22 November 2018, introduced further changes in the VET system on 1 September 2019:

  • Separate implementing regulations on the classification of occupations for VET linked to the core curricula for VET. This makes the structure of regulations based on the Law more readable and helps to avoid the situation where no up-to-date core curricula are in place for new occupations to be established.
  • Closer collaboration between schools and employers and their organisations. Schools and employers can conclude agreements and establish so-called patronage or sponsored classes (klasa patronacka) where pupils are trained for a given occupation or specialism in response to the needs of a specific employer.
  • Official labour-market demand forecasts, and mandatory opinions given by the regional labour-market councils. Local administration bodies are required to assess the needs related to the training of pupils in vocational schools; this will be a mandatory element of a feasibility study for the establishment of new programmes for specific occupations and for further delivery of programme in existing schools.
  • Compulsory vocational exams. To finish school, each pupil or learner in a vocational school should pass an exam and acquire qualifications for a given occupation.

 

 

Legislation

The basic legislative act for secondary education is the  Act of 14 December 2016 – the Law on School Education (ustawa z dnia 14 grudnia 2016 r. – Prawo oświatowe) (and, during the implementation of the school system reform, the Act of 14 December 2016 – Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (ustawa z dnia 14 grudnia 2016 r. – przepisy wprowadzające Prawo oświatowe). It is supplemented by the provisions of the School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (ustawa z dnia 7 września 1991 r. o systemie oświaty) (as subsequently amended), which are still in force.

Detailed arrangements are laid down in the regulations of the minister responsible for school education. The following key regulations, based on the 1991 School Education Act, are still in force as transitional provisions for the pre-reform schools above the lower secondary level (education stage IV), which are gradually being transformed into post-primary schools (see above), and apply to pupils who have finished pre-reform lower secondary schools and continue education in 4-year technical secondary schools:

These legislative acts will no longer apply when the school system reform is completed in the school year 2022/23.

The post-reform schools in the new school system (8-year primary schools, stage I sectoral vocational schools, schools preparing for employment and post-secondary schools, and new 4-year general secondary schools and 5-year technical secondary schools), which have operated since 1 September 2019, are governed by the aforementioned Law on School Educationand regulations covering specific aspects. These include, for example:

There are also additional regulations for secondary vocational schools. The following regulations, in particular, apply to pre-reform schools on a transitional basis, until the completion or abolishment of a given education cycle:

Vocational schools which are newly established or transformed into those introduced by the new school system (in particular, stage I sectoral vocational school and 5-year technical secondary schools) are governed by regulations based on the Law on School Education. These include: