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Types of schools in PolandPrint

What is the education system in Poland?

The Polish school system is divided into the following stages: 

  • kindergarten (for children 3-5/6 years of age);
  • primary school (6 years; for children 6/7- 11/12 years of age)
  • gymnasium – lower secondary school (3 years; for children 12/13 – 15/16 years of age)
  • secondary school  (different types, education lasts 3 or 4 years depending on the type of school). 

At each level both public institutions (run by public entities and maintained in large part from public funds) and private ones exist (run by private owners and maintained entirely by private funds). The third possible type are so-called “association schools” run by associations of parents and maintained with their resources. They differ from private schools in that the parents of students and / or former students, grouped in a formal association, are co-owners of the school and decide about its matters. 

Education in public schools is free of charge, in private schools and association schools it is paid (except for the students included in scholarship programs run by some private or public schools). A child's stay in a public kindergarten, on the other hand, is partially paid - the rules vary depending on location, since they are set by local governments. Exceptions are some kindergarten divisions run in primary schools only for the oldest children who, from the next school year, will begin attending primary school (so-called “0” form, “zero year”) - the child’s stay in the school’s “zero form” is free of charge.


Public kindergartens are intended for children aged 3 to 5 years (in exceptional cases they may also accept children aged 2.5 years); they serve as care and education institutions. They provide care for children while parents are at work, but are also conducive to their social  (contacts with peers in the same group) and intellectual development (learning activities). For foreign children they are also a great opportunity to learn the Polish language.

Public kindergartens are open from Monday to Friday, while they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Local governments determine the number of hours daily that a child’s stay in kindergarten is free of charge (minimum 5 hours per day), and how many additional hours must be paid for by the parents if the child stays in kindergarten above that limit. Local government also sets the hourly rates for the stay in a kindergarten for a calendar year - and therefore the rates vary between cities (in Warsaw the fee for each additional hour is 2.81 PLN). In principle, parents also pay for the meals served to children in kindergartens (in Warsaw around 8 PLN per day for three meals). Most of these institutions, in addition to the program of educational activities conducted by the kindergarten staff, also offer a variety of paid extracurricular activities appropriate to the age of children (ex. dance, art, English).

Attending kindergarten is mandatory for children five years of age, as the last year of kindergarten is treated as a preparation for the child’s school attendance. 

Enrollment of children in public kindergartens generally begins in March (for the school year beginning September 1). Priority is always given to children residing in the municipality (city, district). Local governments may establish additional criteria for admission to their kindergartens of children living in the areas governed by another local government.
In many large cities, an electronic kindergarten enrollment system for children has been established, allowing for creation of a preferential list of establishments into which parents would like to enroll their child. (so-called 1st choice kindergarten - to which they would most like to enroll the child, and others they would choose if the most desirable one could not offer their child a place). Joining a kindergarten group by a child at a later time is only possible if there are places in a given kindergarten, which very often run out quickly. Foreign children are accepted into public kindergartens under the same conditions as Polish children - what documents are needed to enroll a child for kindergarten? ->. Parents interested in enrolling a child for kindergarten should refer to the criteria for acceptance set out by local authorities. To this end, it is best to contact the selected kindergarten directly or the appropriate department in the Municipal Office for the area you live in Poland.

If parents are unable to find a free place in a public kindergarten, they can still benefit from a private kindergarten, where fees, however, are much higher (more information is available here -> ), or entrust the care of the child to a family member or a hired nanny.

Zero form

The zero form, also called "year 0", is special classes designed for children who will be enrolled the next school year in the first grade of primary school. The Polish education system is undergoing a reform program, part of which is to lower the age of starting school from 7 years to 6. At this time, children still start compulsory school at 7 years of age.  For children aged 6, parents can decide whether their child will go to the first grade to learn the same things as seven-year-olds, or to the so-called “zero form”. Selecting one of these two forms is mandatory (i.e. a six year old has to attend either the “zero form" or the first grade). 

The "zero form", i.e. the class preparing children for school attendance, in particular for learning literacy and numeracy skills, can be run both in kindergartens and primary schools.

Principles of financing the child’s stay in “year zero” depend on the type of institution in which it is operated - in kindergartens the stay is partially paid, while at schools it is free of charge. In both types of establishments, parents pay for the cost of meals served to children attending the zero form.

Both types of facilities provide care for the children until late in the afternoon.

The current system is temporary. Starting with the school year beginning on 1 September 2014, all six-year-olds will have to attend the first grade of primary school.

Primary school

Public primary schools are subject to regionalization, which means that the school must accept all children residing in the area it is competent for, namely the surrounding area (in the case of small towns the school catchment area can be an entire town or even several of them, while in large cities it may be just a dozen or so streets). The child may also, at the request of the parents, attend a school other than the one indicated by his place of residence (also known as the district school) - then the decision on the child’s acceptance rests with the headmaster of the school.

What documents are needed to enroll a child in school? -> 

Primary education comprises 6 years and is divided into two stages. In forms I-III children learn in a so-called integrated learning environment. There is no clear division into subjects such as Polish, mathematics, science, etc. Most of the subjects are taught by one teacher, who is also the form master. Only specialized subjects (foreign languages, physical education - sports, arts subjects) may be taught by another teacher / teachers. From year I, the curriculum includes learning a foreign language - in about 80% of the schools it is English, in the rest it is German or Russian, mostly in border areas. Children will have to continue learning this language gymnasium together with English, which is compulsory for all gymnasium students. If a child learns English from grade I, they take up another foreign language once they start gymnasium/lower secondary school.

Children from forms I-III are also provided with free care services in the school club-room, usually from 7.00am to 5.00 or 6.00pm. During that time both free and paid extramural activities are held, and in many schools the children can also do their homework with assistance from one of the school club-room teachers. 

In forms IV-VI the curriculum is already divided into subjects, taught by different teachers, one of which is also the form master, which means he or she is specifically responsible for educational matters. In some schools, a second foreign language is added to the curriculum – this varies depending on the school. It is mostly German, less often French or Russian. Other languages ​​are rare.

Children in these forms may use the club-room only in exceptional cases.

All students can benefit from school lunches in the school cafeteria,  which are paid on a monthly basis in advance (the money for the time the child is absent is refunded provided information about the absence is provided to the school administration).

During their primary school education, the children sit a nationwide examination in the form of  a written test at the end of form VI. It takes place usually in April, on the same day and at the same time in across Poland. In some schools students also sit the national proficiency test at the end of form III. However, this test is not mandatory, but remains voluntary, and parents must agree for their child to participate in it. Participation in the form III proficiency test and the results obtained do not affect the further course of the child’s education, and serve only information purposes.


VI form examination

Although the score received on the VI form examination also has no impact on whether the child completes primary school,  it can be taken into account during admission to the next schooling stage, which is gymnasium. The test assesses reading, writing, reasoning skills, use of information sources and use of knowledge in practice. 

Sitting the examination is mandatory and a precondition for the completion of primary school. For children who could not sit the test at the normal time due to, for example, illness, a special exam date is set. If the child is unable to sit the examination during this second additional test date as well, he must repeat VI form and retake the exam the following year.

Exemption from the obligation to sit the exam in question is granted to the winners of knowledge contests at the regional or national level for one or a group of subjects covered by the test. Other students may be exempted only for health reasons or due to circumstances beyond their control. The application for exemption should be submitted to the Director of the Regional Examination Commission (OKE) by the school headmaster. According to some experts, insufficient knowledge of Polish by a foreign child newly-arrived in Poland constitutes such a factor, but others disagree with this interpretation. In each particular case the decision rests with the Regional Examination Commission. 

Foreign children starting school in Poland from VI form are therefore in a particularly difficult situation because of the need to sit the above test in the Polish language under the same rules as their Polish colleagues. Unfortunately, they often do not have enough time to sufficiently master the Polish language and curriculum differences between the subjects taught in their country of origin and in Poland to achieve a good result during the examination.

This problem is usually not applicable to foreign children who have been attending a Polish school for several years.

Detailed information about the VI form examination is available at the National Examination Commission website.

Gymnasium – lower secondary school

After finishing primary school, all children are required to continue their education in a three-year lower secondary school - gymnasium. Every child is guaranteed a place in the district school to the catchment area of his place of residence. The child can also apply for a place in a school other than the district school that he would normally attend if there are vacancies. Each school shall establish criteria for admission of candidates from outside the catchment area. The most common factors taken into account include the average of final grades from VI form, sometimes results for year VI and V jointly, test results for the VI form examinations and other achievements (e.g. participation in knowledge contests).

Gymnasiums specializing in foreign languages ​​or sports often organize their own additional language skills or sporting abilities examinations for the candidates. The winners of knowledge contests organized by the relevant provincial school superintendents are guaranteed admission to a selected school on preferential terms, regardless of the criteria set by the school. Therefore, before participation in a contest one should read the rules of the given competition and pay close attention to whether it is organized by the school superintendent.

What other documents are needed to enroll a foreign child in a school? ->

To learn the rules for admission to a given school, you should contact them directly.


Gymnasium examination 

Education in lower secondary school ends with a nationwide written examination consisting of three parts: the humanities (questions on Polish language, Polish literature, history and social studies), Mathematics and Science (questions on mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography and biology) and language (selected from among the modern languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Italian, and from school year 2012/2013 also Ukrainian). A given language can be selected only if the student learned it in school as a compulsory subject. The language part can be sat by the student at a basic level or advanced level. The basic level is compulsory for all. The advanced level is mandatory for students opting for a test in a language they learned in elementary school. Other students may also voluntarily take the advanced exam for the language they select.

To take the exam, a written declaration of the choice of  language to be tested is to be submitted to the school headmaster. It should be submitted by 20 September of the school year in which the student wants to take the exam. The student's parents sign the declaration on behalf of the child.

Each part of the exam is taken on a different day. The humanities and mathematics and science tests last for 150 minutes, and the language part for 60 minutes at each level.
Taking the exam is necessary to complete gymnasium, but there is no specified minimum of points required to pass it. The result is, however, taken into account during admittance to certain upper secondary schools.

In the school year 2011/2012, during the gymnasium exam foreign students who have  been provided with psychological or pedagogical counseling at school related to adaptation difficulties due to previous education abroad (for example, attended additional classes in the Polish language - more information is available here - >), are entitled, on the basis of an opinion from the school board, to additional support when taking the exam as appropriate to each individual case. Depending on their needs this support may take the form of: 

1. Extension of time to work on the tasks: 

  • for the history and social studies test and the science and modern foreign language test at the basic level - no more than 20 minutes for each;
  • for the Polish language and mathematics test -– no more than 45 minutes for each;
  • for the modern foreign language test at the advanced level - no more than 40 minutes; 

2. to sit the gymnasium exam in a separate classroom;

3. allowing for use of modified criteria as specified in separate regulations for evaluation of open-ended tasks in the Polish language examination, if needed. 

Groups entitled to special examination conditions and additional support available to them are identified each year in a communique from the Director of the National Examination Board pursuant to the relevant legal provisions.

Detailed information on the exam is available in Polish on the website of the National  Examination Commission 

Secondary school

Secondary schools in Poland are defined as the schools that a student may attend after graduating from gymnasium. There are several types: 

  • three-year comprehensive high school (LO), ending with a school-leaving examination;  
  • four-year technical high school  (T) ending with issuance of a vocational certification and a school-leaving examination
  • three-year basic vocational school (ZSZ) ending with issuance of a diploma confirming vocational qualifications in a given profession/s; sitting the school-leaving examination is conditional upon continuation of education in a complementary comprehensive or technical high school or comprehensive high school for adults;

For comprehensive and technical high school graduates, further education in post-secondary schools, or tertiary education opportunities (after passing the school-leaving examination) are available.

Those who do not graduate from comprehensive or technical high or vocational school have the opportunity to continue their education in comprehensive high schools for adults, which can end with a school-leaving exaination.

Post-secondary schools themselves determine the criteria for admission of candidates. To learn the rules for admission to a given school, you must contact them directly (usually this information can also be found on the website for the school). 

What documents are needed to enroll a child in school?->

School-leaving examination

The school-leaving examination is a nationwide state exam for comprehensive and technical high school graduates carried out in all schools in Poland at the same time, usually in May. It is not mandatory. A passing grade in this examination is, however, a condition of further study at tertiary education institutions.

It consists of two parts: mandatory and additional. In the mandatory part the students pass an oral and written test of the Polish language, a chosen foreign language, a test in mathematics and a minority language, provided that it is taught in the school.

In the additional part, the student may select up to six  subjects for examination. The student can also decide whether to take them at a basic level or advanced level.

The condition for passing the exam is to receive 30% of the points available in each subject tested in the mandatory part of the examination.

Detailed information on the school-leaving exam is available in Polish only on the website of the National  Examination Commission.