The Polish education system has undergone many positive reforms in recent years, marking an overall improvement to the standard of education in Poland.
Expat children are allowed to attend public schools free of charge. However, owing to the language barrier, and a general preference among expats for their children to continue their home country's curriculum, most foreigners choose to enrol their children in international schools, of which there are a number to choose from.
Compulsory education in Poland begins at age five or six with a preschool year and continues for 12 years up to the age of 18. Students write standardised tests at 16 which help determine the type of school they will attend at the next level of their education. Students have the option of choosing between a general, technical or vocational high school.
The Polish school year runs from September to June. The three major holiday periods are over Christmas and Easter, as well as a winter break in late January or early February.
Public schools in Poland
The majority of children in Poland attend state or public schools. Tuition is free for all children attending these schools, including expat children. Though, this does not include the additional costs of textbooks, school uniforms, lunches or general stationery and school supplies. Despite the high standard of education and free tuition, most expats in Poland don't send their children to public schools due to the language barrier.
In the case that expat parents decide to make use of public schools in Poland, it's important to know that attendance is determined by where the family lives and schools are required to accept all children residing in their catchment area. Children are not obligated to attend their nearest school, however, and parents can request that their child be allowed to attend another school outside their residential area. In such cases, it is up to the director of the school to determine whether the child will be accepted or not.
Private schools in Poland
Private primary and secondary education was only introduced in the late 1980s in Poland, which is much later in other European countries. Private or non-state schools are partly funded by the government and also by fees and donations from parents and other organisations, such as religious orders. As a result, many private schools in Poland are run by religious or social organisations.
The language of instruction at these schools is generally Polish or one of the country's minority languages. These schools are independent of the government and are not restricted to following the national curriculum. Fees at private schools in Poland can be quite steep.
International schools in Poland
There are several international schools in Poland that cater to numerous nationalities, including American, British, German, French and Japanese expats. Most international schools in Poland are based in Warsaw or Kraków, and there are also a handful in Poznan and Wrocław. While most of the schools follow the curriculum of their home country, some also offer the International Baccalaureate programme.
Places at international schools in Poland may be limited, so expat parents should plan in advance when making arrangements for their child’s education in Poland. Consideration should also be given to the cost of education at international schools, which are often an expat's biggest expense.
Special-needs education in Poland
Expat parents of children with disabilities can rest assured that in Poland, special assistance – both throughout the entire educational process or during a certain period of education – is given to children who have special educational needs or those children whose opportunities for education, development and learning are limited to such an extent that they can't meet the educational requirements at mainstream schools.
Special educational needs may refer to long-term illnesses; adaptive problems; specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia; speech impairment; trauma-induced emotional and behavioural difficulties; or learning difficulties. Special-needs institutions provide care for differently abled pupils by allowing for the implementation of individualised educational processes, forms, curriculum and revalidation.
Tutoring in Poland
Education is highly valued in Poland, and Polish parents often use tutoring as a tool to assist students in their learning. It is also invaluable to expat children adapting to a new environment, language and curriculum. Even for children in international schools, tutoring is useful for gaining confidence, or for assistance in specific subjects such as maths, science or Polish. Good tutoring companies in Poland include Apprentus and TeacherOn.
►To read interviews from expats living in the country, see Expat Experiences in Poland
►For an overview of the Polish healthcare system, read Healthcare in Poland
"Unless you plan to be in Poland for a long time and are prepared to immerse yourself in the language, international schools are your best options. They all offer tuition for all age groups and have their own merits. We really love our school, Embassy International School in Krakow, because of the small class sizes, pioneering spirit and value-based leadership."
Read more about expat life in Krakow, Poland in our interview with South African expat Leonie.
Are you an expat living in Poland?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Poland. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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