6.1 General context
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The school year 2017/18 was the beginning of the education reform introduced by the Act of 14 December 2016 - Law on School Education (Ustawa z dn. 14 grudnia 2016 r. Prawo oświatowe) together with the Act of 14 December 2016 - Provisions introducing the Law on School Education (Ustawa z dn. 14 grudnia 2016 r. Przepisy wprowadzające ustawę - Prawo oświatowe) .The main assumption of education reform is the elimination of lower secondary schools and return to the eight-year primary school, as well as the modification of vocational education by replacing basic vocational schools with stage I sectoral vocational schools and in the future also stage II sectoral vocational schools. The objective of the reform is also to extend the cycle of education in general secondary schools from three to four years, and in technical secondary schools from four to five years.
According to Statistics Poland, (Główny Urząd Statystyczny) education expenditure from the state budget and local government budgets reached PLN 71,9 billion in 2017, representing 3.6% of GDP. The educational part of the general subvention transferred to schools through local government units amounted to PLN 41,9 billion. The state budget earmarked PLN 4,2 billion for education and educational care.
As of 30 September 2018, 86.4% of children aged 3-6 participated in various forms of pre-school education, but despite a significant increase in the value of this rate, it is still below the average for OECD countries and the European Union. As in previous years, children under the age of 6 living in cities much more often attended preschool facilities than their peers in rural areas.
The number of primary schools increased by 7.1% in comparison with the previous school year. There is a constant, although insignificant rise in the share of primary schools governed by private institutions. A total of 2 657 000 pupils and students were enrolled in primary schools for children and youth. In the 2017/18 school year, the number of primary schools for adults increased by 100 establishments on the school year 2016/17 due to liquidation of lower secondary schools which concentrated 1 200 students.
As a result of the education reform assuming a gradual liquidation of lower secondary schools, the number of schools of this type decreased to 1 941 in 2017 (7 706 in the previous year). In the 2017/18 school year, there was no recruitment to the first grade and students of grades two and three continued education in phased-out schools or in lower secondary school sections conducted by other types of schools (711 400 people in total at this level of education).
Statistics Poland, (Główny Urząd Statystyczny) informs that general secondary schools have been the most popular type of upper secondary schools for years, chosen by 47.8% of lower secondary school graduates in the 2017/18 school year. The vast majority of general secondary schools for youth were public, unlike general secondary schools for adults. In the 2017/18 school year, there were 3 717 general secondary schools (by 201 fewer than in the previous year) with a total of 617 700 students, including 58.2% women.
Over the last 13 years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of special job-training schools. In the 2017/18 school year, there were 510 such schools teaching 10 500 students.
In the 2017/18 school year, basic vocational schools were transformed into stage I sectoral vocational schools. Grade 2 and 3 students attended basic vocational school sections at stage I sectoral vocational schools. There were 1 504 stage I sectoral vocational schools with a total of 155 800 students (by 10 400 fewer than in basic vocational schools in the 2016/17 school year). The most popular fields of education were the engineering and engineering trades narrow field and personal services.
The number of technical secondary schools in 2017/18 decreased by 0.8% compared to the previous school year, while the number of students dropped by 0.5%. This type of school was chosen mainly by men (60.4% of students of technical secondary schools). Students of these schools mostly studied the narrow fields of personal services and engineering and engineering trades.
In the school year 2017/18, a decrease in the popularity of post-secondary schools was recorded. 235 400 students were enrolled in these schools (by 5.0% fewer than in the previous school year). This trend is due to the broad availability of higher education offering also 2-, 3- year first-degree programmes.
Teaching languages of national and ethnic minorities and regional languages is offered across all levels of primary and upper secondary education. In the 2017/18 school year, 64 800 students participated in this type of courses. Most of the students taking the language of the national and ethnic minority or the regional language during the matriculation examination, chose the standard level examination.
Each stage of education ends with examination testing the effects of education. In the 2017/18 school year, the lower secondary schools provided final examination to their graduates. The graduates of general secondary and technical secondary schools sat the matriculation examination, whereas vocational examinations were held in basic vocational schools and technical secondary schools. These examinations are carried out by the Central Examination Commission together with the Regional Examination Commissions in cooperation with the Ministry of National Education.
344 500 people took the lower secondary school final examination in April 2017. The best results were obtained by students from cities with over 100 thousand inhabitants. Higher results were scored in humanities (average score: 69% - Polish language and 59% - history and social studies) than in mathematical part (average score: 47% in mathematics and 52% in natural science subjects). 258 000 upper secondary school graduates, including 64.3% graduates of general secondary schools, sat the matriculation examination in May 2017. The pass rate was 78.5%, by 1.0 percentage point lower than in the previous school year, reaching 84.4% in general and 67.9% in technical secondary school.
509 800 thousand teachers (full-time equivalents) were employed in schools in the 2017/18 school year. Teachers of primary schools made up the largest group - 43.7%. Most teachers worked as chartered teacher (55.4%) and appointed teacher (21.6%).
The structure of the Polish school education system comprises the following types of schools:
- 8-year primary school: compulsory for all pupils;
- post-primary (secondary and post-secondary) schools, including:
- 4-year general secondary schools;
- 5-year technical secondary schools;
- 3-year stage I sectoral vocational schools;
- 3-year special schools preparing for employment;
- 2-year stage II sectoral vocational schools (where those finishing a 3-year stage I sectoral vocational school can continue their education);
- post-secondary schools with programmes of up to 2.5 years for those who have completed secondary or sectoral vocational secondary education.
The school system which is now being implemented will provide for two external examinations: the eighth-grader exam and the maturity exam. The functions of these exams will not change as compared to the lower secondary school exam and the maturity exam in the pre-reform system.
In accordance with the School Education Act of 7 September 1991 (with further amendments), the school education system comprises nursery schools (przedszkole) and other pre-school education settings, primary schools (szkoła podstawowa), lower secondary schools (gimnazjum) (until they are abolished on 31 August 2018), upper secondary and post-secondary schools (until they are transformed into post-primary / secondary schools in the new school system), and art schools. Higher education institutions are not included and form a separate higher education system. However, the school education system comprises initial teacher training institutions, including teacher training colleges, foreign language teacher training colleges (phased out by 1 October 2016), and colleges of social work classified at the ISCED 5B level for international comparisons.
In addition to the above-mentioned schools, the school education system includes:
- education and care institutions where children and young people can develop their interests and talents and participate in various leisure and free time activities;
- continuing education centres, practical training centres and further training and in-service training centres where learners can acquire and broaden general knowledge, and vocational or professional skills and qualifications;
- art institutions: fine art centres which develop artistic interests and talents;
- counselling and guidance services (referred to as Psychological and Educational Support Centres), including specialised services which provide counselling (pedagogical and psychological support) to children, young people, parents and teachers, and guidance to children in the choice of the area of study or occupation;
- youth care centres, youth social-therapy centres, special schooling and education centres, special educational centres for children and young people requiring special organisation of education, methods of work and education, and centres providing compulsory education to children and young people with severe intellectual disabilities and intellectual disabilities combined with multiple physical disabilities;
- institutions providing care and education to pupils receiving education away from their home;
- in-service teacher training institutions;
- educational resources centres.
In accordance with the Law on School Education, as from 1 September 2017, full-time compulsory education is now again provided by the 8-year primary school, and young people pursue part-time compulsory education in public and non-public post-primary schools or in the form of vocational training at an employer’s organisation. The reform of the school system is being implemented in accordance with the Act of 14 December 2016, the Provisions introducing the Law on School Education. Still existing lower secondary schools will be phased out by 31 August 2019.
Currently, compulsory education is divided into:
- one-year compulsory pre-school preparation;
- full-time compulsory education (obligation to attend school) which starts at the beginning of the school year in the calendar year when the child reaches the age of 7 and lasts until the completion of education in the primary school (szkoła podstawowa) (until the completion of lower secondary education in the transition period) but not beyond the age of 18;
- part-time compulsory education until the age of 18 which young people may receive, in particular, in a post-primary school (or until completion of education in the lower secondary school in the transition period) or as part of vocational training at an employer’s organisation.
Moreover, children and young people may pursue compulsory education in nursery schools or schools abroad and at foreign diplomatic missions in Poland. A student who has completed education in a post-primary school (earlier: a lower secondary school) before the age of 18 may also carry out the obligation to pursue part-time compulsory education by taking courses at a higher education institution (HEI).
The Law on School Education of 14 December 2016 (art. 37) specifies that children can follow full-time compulsory education outside of school, e.g. at home where they are taught by their parents. This arrangement should be formally endorsed by a decision issued by the head of the school in a given catchment area upon parents’ request. Parental request is accompanied by an opinion issued by a counselling and guidance centre and parents’ declaration that they will secure the learning conditions suitable for the implementation of the core curriculum at the level corresponding to the child’s age. No minimum qualification for educators is required.
The Law on School Education also specifies that a child educated at home receives yearly marks in subjects included in the core curricula for the relevant stage of education on the basis of end-of-year exams administered by the school, the head of which had authorized him/her to receive education at home. Parents are obliged to make sure that the child takes these examinations every year. The child’s conduct is not assessed.
The school, the head of which authorizes a child to receive education at home, continues to support the child by offering him/ her a possibility to participate in some classes such as extracurricular classes, classes developing pupils’ talents and interests, revalidation classes for pupils with disabilities as well as school counselling and guidance provision. The child is also provided with access to textbooks, learning materials, and teaching aids available at school and consultations preparing for yearly exams.
The home schooling arrangement is ended either at parents’ request, or in the case of unjustified absence of the child during yearly exams, or exam failure.
In terms of the types and levels of programmes, higher education is divided into:
- first-cycle programmes: undergraduate programmes for applicants holding the maturity certificate, which provide knowledge and skills in a specific area of study and prepare for work in a specific profession, leading to a Bachelor's degree (licencjat or inżynier);
- second-cycle programmes: graduate programmes for applicants holding a Bachelor’s (licencjat or inżynier) degree, which provide specialist knowledge in a specific area of study and prepare for creative work in a specific profession, leading to a Master’s degree (magister) or an equivalent degree; second-cycle programme graduates may apply for admission to third-cycle programmes;
- long-cycle programmes: graduate programmes for applicants holding the maturity certificate, which provide specialist knowledge in a specific area of study and prepare for creative work in a profession, leading to a Master’s degree (magister) or an equivalent degree; long-cycle programme graduates may apply for admission to third-cycle programmes;
- third-cycle programmes: doctoral programmes open to applicants holding a Master’s or equivalent degree, which provide advanced knowledge in a specific area or discipline of science, and prepare for independent and creative research and for the award of a doctoral degree (doktor);
- non-degree post-graduate programmes: programmes for holders of a Bachelor's or Master's degree.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) provide programmes leading to a Bachelor’s degree (licencjat or inżynier), a Master’s degree or an equivalent degree. These programmes are classified at ISCED 6-7 levels. Colleges of social work are classified in Poland at ISCED 5 level and are not included in the higher education system (they are part of the school education system).
HEIs may be:
- public institutions, established by the State represented by the competent authority or public administration body;
- non-public institutions, established by a natural person or legal person other than a legal entity administered by national or local authorities.
HEIs may be organised as:
- a university-type higher education institution (uczelnia akademicka): where at least one organisational unit is authorised to award doctoral degrees;
- a non-university institution (uczelnia zawodowa): which offers first- and second-cycle programmes or long-cycle programmes and is not authorised to award doctoral degrees;
- a military higher education institution: a public HEI supervised by the Minister of National Defence;
- a government service higher education institution: a public HEI supervised by the minister responsible for home affairs;
- a higher education for art studies: a public HEI supervised by the minister responsible for culture and national heritage;
- a medical higher education institution: a public HEI supervised by the minister responsible for health;
- a higher education institution for maritime studies: a public HEI supervised by the minister responsible for maritime economy.
HEIs may use the following names:
- ‘university’ if HEI organisational units are authorised to award doctoral degrees in at least ten disciplines, including at least two in (1) humanities, legal, economic or theological sciences, (2) mathematical, physical or earth sciences, or engineering and technology; (3) natural sciences, pharmaceutical, agricultural or veterinary sciences.
- ‘technical university’ if HEI organisational units are authorised to award doctoral degrees in at least ten disciplines, including at least six in engineering and technology sciences;
- ‘university’ together with an adjective or adjectives used to define the profile of a HEI if its organisational units are authorised to award doctoral degrees in at least six disciplines, including at least four in the areas which correspond to the profile of the HEI;
- ‘university of applied sciences’ if HEI organisational units are authorised to award doctoral degrees in at least six disciplines, including at least four in engineering and technology sciences;
- ‘academy’ if HEI organisational units are authorised to award doctoral degrees in at least two disciplines.
With regard to the mode or form of study and the organisation of higher education, programmes are divided into:
- full-time degree programmes: a form of study specified by the senate of an HEI, where the curriculum is implemented in the form of courses requiring direct participation of academic staff and students, with the course load complying with the standards defined for this form of study;
- part-time degree programmes: a form of study other than full-time programmes, specified by the senate of an HEI, complying with the standards defined for this form of study.
Programmes are divided into:
- academically oriented programmes (referred to as ‘general academic orientation / profile’): comprising modules which are related to academic research conducted by a given HEI, and are based on the principle that more than 50% of the study programme, as defined in ECTS credits, covers courses / classes which enable students to gain more in-depth knowledge;
- practically-oriented programmes (referred to as ‘practical orientation / profile’): comprising modules which enable students to acquire practical skills and social competences, and are based on the principle that more than 50% of the study programme, as defined in ECTS credits, covers practical courses / classes developing such skills and competences, including skills developed as part of workshop-type training / classes which are conducted by persons with professional experience gained outside higher education.
Additionally, HEIs may also validate learning outcomes achieved outside the higher education system. More specifically, this is a formal process verifying the learning outcomes achieved, where learning was organised within an institutional framework outside the higher education system or was not organised within an institutional framework, and which used ways and methods enhancing the body of knowledge, skills and social competences.
An external compulsory examination (set by the Central Examination Board, administered and assessed by the Regional Examination Boards) taken by pupils at the end of general and technical upper secondary schools. The written part includes the following subjects: Polish language, mathematics, modern foreign language and also a national minority language for those pupils for whom this language was the language of instruction. All these subjects are compulsory and are taken at the basic level. Additionally, for the written part, pupils have to choose 1 to 5 subjects from the list of optional subjects (extended level only). The oral part, prepared and assessed by the school teachers, consists of compulsory as well as additional subjects. Compulsory subjects are Polish language and a modern foreign language (as well as a national minority language for those pupils for whom this language was the language of instruction). This examination is not obligatory and gives access to higher education.
National minority language
The following 9 national minorities have been defined in the legislation: Byelorussian, Czech, Lithuanian, German, Armenian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Jewish. Their languages are considered to be national minority languages.
Pupils’ self-government is a representation of all pupils of a given school elected in a direct democratic vote. The pupils’ self-government represents all pupils in contacts with the school head, parents and education authorities. It issues opinions and should be involved in the decision making process at school. It receives support and advice from one of the teachers (elected by the pupils) who acts as its mentor.