The major reform carried out in Poland’s educational system in 1999 involved profound changes in the school structure as well as curricula, the grading system, and requirements for students. The new education system comprises: pre-school institutions, primary schools, lower secondary schools (gimnazjum), upper secondary schools and post-secondary schools. Apart from the above mentioned schools, there are the following elements of the education system: schools of art, psychological and educational centers, special education and care institution, continuing education centers, practical training centers, teacher training institutions and teachers’ (pedagogical) libraries. In the light of the existing law, institutions of higher education are excluded from the system. They form a separate higher education system.
A child aged 3 to 5 may receive pre-school education, which is not compulsory. The six year-old children attend either kindergartens or pre-school classes organized in primary schools. From the school year 1999/2000 children between the ages of 7 and 13 attend primary schools for a period of 6 years. As it comes to primary schools (7-13), it is divided into two stages: the first stage (grades 1 to 3) offering integrated learning (no subject division) and the second stage (grades 4 to 6) at which subject teaching is provided (music is obligatory for three years once a week). From 1999/2000, all the primary school leavers continue their education in a 3-year gimnazjum (obligatory education 7-16), a lower secondary compulsory school. At the end of this school pupils take a compulsory external examination organized by the regional examination board. Upon the completion of the lower secondary school they are to attend different types of upper secondary schools. At the end of some types of these schools pupils can take the external Matura examination (introduced in 2005). On passing the Matura examination, students may continue their education at an institution of tertiary education (a university or academy). Those who did not pass the Matura examination or who were not accepted by higher education institutions, could continue their education in post-secondary schools. Non-public schools, together with community and private schools, are becoming more and more popular at all levels – from elementary to higher education.
The Minister of Education is responsible for the whole system of education (including the vocational schools). The artistic schools (Music, Ballet, Fine Arts schools) are under the pedagogical supervision of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. The reform of the state administration system and the education reform led to the situation that only the national educational policy is developed and carried out centrally, while the administration of education and the running of schools, pre-school institutions and other educational establishments are decentralized. The responsibility for the administration of public kindergartens, primary schools and since 1999/2000 also lower secondary schools have been delegated to local authorities.