Education in Poland is changing. Primary education will now take 8 years instead of 6. This change started in the 2017-2018 school year and will be completed in 2022-2023.

This change in primary education also has an impact on secondary and vocational education. For each type of education, we first describe the new situation and then the old situation (the old system).

Primary education

Pupils start primary education at the age of 7. However, compulsory education starts at the age of 6. As such, they must first attend a year of pre-school education. This is usually done at a pre-school (przedszkole). After that they go to primary school (szkoła podstawowa).

  • Duration: 8 years.
  • Content: years 1 to 3 have a group teacher, while the later years use specific subject teachers. From year 4 on, pupils learn a foreign language and a second foreign language can be added in years 7 and 8. At the end of year 8 pupils take a central final exam, the eight-form exam.
  • Diplomas:
    • świadectwo ukończenia szkoły podstawowej (certificate of completion of primary education). The school will award the certificate, with a corresponding list of grades;
    • zaświadczenie, the certificate of the central examination. The Okręgowa Komisja Egzaminacyjna (Regional Examination Board) awards this certificate.

Primary education – the old system

In the old system, primary education took 6 years. In the 2021-2022 school year, the last pupils will finish the 6 years of primary school. Starting from the 2022-2023 school year, all schools will switch to 8 years of primary education.

Secondary education

After 8 years of primary education, students can go to 1 of 3 types of secondary education:

Exception: art education (szkolnictwo artystyczne) in Poland is divided differently. For example, there are art schools in both primary and secondary education. Besides art subjects, these schools also offer general education subjects. You can find more information on art education on the website of the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport.

General secondary education

Students take general secondary education at a liceum ogólnokształcące (general lyceum). In the 2019-2020 school year, the first students started at this renewed lyceum. They will sit their first school-leaving exams in the 2022-2023 school year.

  • Duration: 4 years.
  • Content: general secondary education. Some subjects are taken at basic level (poziom podstawowy), others at extended level (poziom rozszerzony). More time is spent on extended level subjects, often twice as much as on basic level subjects. Usually, students choose 2 or 3 extended level subjects. Subjects such as art and physical education are only available at basic level. At the end of year 12, all students sit a central school-leaving exam, the maturity exam (egzamin maturalny).
  • Admission requirements: zaświadczenie, the certificate pupils receive after 8 years of primary education.
  • Diplomas:
    • świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate), awarded by the Okręgowa Komisja Egzaminacyjna (Regional Examination Board), if the student passes the maturity exam. This certificate gives students access to higher education in Poland.
    • świadectwo ukończenia liceum ogólnokształcącego (certificate of completion of the general lyceum): awarded by the school to all students, even if they fail the maturity exam. This certificate does not give pupils access to higher education in Poland.

We compare the świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate) to a VWO diploma.

We compare the świadectwo ukończenia liceum ogólnokształcącego (certificate of completion of the general lyceum) to a HAVO diploma.

Please note: this diploma is similar to a HAVO diploma, even though the certificate of completion of the general lyceum does not give access to higher education in Poland. We compare it with a HAVO diploma because students have also completed 4 years of general secondary education. But they did not pass the maturity exam.

Maturity exam

When students sit the maturity exam (egzamin maturalny) they do:

  • oral exams; and
  • written exams.

Oral exams

The school carries out the oral exams. The subjects are:

  • Polish (basic level);
  • a foreign language (basic level); and
  • an elective subject, for example a minority language or an additional language (basic level or extended level).

Written exams

The Centralna Komisja Egzaminacyjna (Central Examination Board) organises the written exams all over the country. Students take written exams in the following subjects:

  • Polish (basic level);
  • mathematics (basic level);
  • a foreign language (basic level); and
  • an elective subject (extended level).

In addition to these 4 compulsory written exams, students can take exams in up to 5 optional subjects at advanced level. They often take extra subjects to improve their chances of getting a place at certain study programmes or educational institutions in Poland

Maturity exam grades

The grades of the maturity exam have their own system: the results vary from 0 to 100%. Students must achieve a result of at least 30% for all subjects to pass. This applies to all written and oral exams.

General secondary education – the old system

The old system of general secondary education ended after the 2020-2021 school year. The most important differences with the new system are listed in this table:

Old system New system
Primary education 6 years 8 years
General secondary education

6 years in 2 phases:

  • 3 years of lower secondary education (gimnazium); and
  • 3 years of upper secondary education (liceum) with different directions.
4 years in 1 phase

Students received the same diplomas in the old system as they do in the new system. The diplomas of the old and new system have the same level, because the students will have completed 12 years of education in both cases (primary education + secondary education).

We compare the świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate) to a VWO diploma.

We compare the świadectwo ukończenia liceum ogólnokształcącego (certificate of completion of the general lyceum) to a HAVO diploma.

General and vocational secondary education

In Poland, students take a combination of general and vocational secondary education at a technikum. The education is not only technical, as the name technikum suggests, so there are many different directions students can take. Vocational education prepares pupils for work.

The first students started with this new 5-year system (in the old system it was 4 years) in the 2019-2020 school year. They will sit their first school-leaving exams in 2023-2024.

  • Duration: 5 years.
  • Content: around 65% of the time students receive general education, around 35% is dedicated to vocational education. There are subjects at basic level and at extended level. Students choose 2 subjects at the extended level. Finally, students take 2 types of school-leaving exams:
  • The maturity exam (egzamin maturalny).
  • The vocational exam (egzamin zawodowy) consists of a written exam and a practical exam.
  • Admission requirements: zaświadczenie, the certificate that pupils receive after 8 years of primary education.
  • Diplomas:
    • świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate) awarded by the Okręgowa Komisja Egzaminacyjna (Regional Examination Board), if the student passes the maturity exam; and
    • dyplom zawodowy (vocational diploma) at Polish PRK level IV awarded by the Centralna Komisja Egzaminacyjna (Central Examination Board), if the student passes the vocational exam; and
    • świadectwo ukończenia technikum (certificate of completion of the technikum) awarded by the school. Every student will receive this certificate.

We compare the świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate) to a VWO diploma.

We compare the dyplom ‎zawodowy (vocational diploma) at PRK level IV to an MBO diploma level 3 or 4. This will depend on the content of the study programme.

We compare the świadectwo ukończenia technikum (certificate of completion of the technikum) to a HAVO diploma for the general education part.

General and vocational secondary education – the old system

In the old system, students could also take a combination of general and vocational secondary education. The most important differences with the new system are shown in this table:

Old system New system
Primary education 6 years 8 years
General and vocational secondary education

7 years in 2 phases:

  • 3 years of lower general secondary education (gimnazium); and
  • 4 years of upper general and vocational secondary education.
5 years in 1 phase

Diplomas in the old system

Students were able to obtain the following diplomas in the old system:

  • świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate), if the student passes the maturity exam;
  • the świadectwo ukończenia technikum (certificate of completion of the technikum), without taking any exams, i.e. after the completion of school; and
  • the dyplom potwierdzający kwalifikacje zawodowe (diploma of confirmed vocational qualification).

The diplomas have the same level in the old and new system. In the old system though, it was not compulsory to take the maturity exam or the vocational exam. Only the dyplom ‎potwierdzający kwalifikacje zawodowe has another name in the new system: dyplom zawodowy.

Please note: the last final exams according to the old system will take place in the 2022-2023 school year.

We compare the świadectwo dojrzałości (maturity certificate) to a VWO diploma.

We compare the świadectwo ukończenia technikum (certificate of completion of the technikum) to a HAVO diploma for the general education part.

We compare the dyplom ‎potwierdzający kwalifikacje zawodowe (diploma of confirmed vocational qualification) to an MBO diploma level 3 or 4. This will depend on the content of the study programme.

Vocational secondary education

Students take vocational secondary education at a szkoła branżowa I stopnia (first-degree vocational school). The first students started attending these schools in the 2019-2020 school year. They will take their first final exams in the 2021-2022 school year.

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Content: basic education for a certain profession or sector. Students take mainly vocational, practical subjects and a few general education subjects that are necessary for the practice. At the end of the year students take the vocational exam (egzamin zawodowy).
  • Admission requirements: zaświadczenie, the certificate that pupils receive after 8 years of primary education.
  • Diploma: dyplom zawodowy (vocational diploma) at the Polish PRK level III.

In addition, all students will receive the świadectwo ukończenia szkoły branżowej I stopnia (certificate of completion of the first-degree vocational school).

We compare thedyplom ‎zawodowy (vocational diploma) at PRK level III to an MBO diploma level 2 or 3. This depends on the content of the study programme.

Further education

After completing their education at a first-degree vocational school, students can continue their education at a szkoła branżowa II stopnia (second-degree vocational school).

Students take a 2-year course to become a 'technician' in a certain profession or sector. In addition to practical subjects, they are also taught general education subjects. Finally, they take a vocational exam. They can also choose to take the maturity exam.