Warsaw is long on history and indeed, all the arts, so there is plenty for culture vultures to get their teeth into, plus there is a thriving, adventurous and diverse expat community, which, in turn, means international schools.
A few, well-established international schools exist, both for expats and the increasing number of wealthy and internationally minded Polish families who wish to see their children educated in English. The main reason that they choose this route, is in order to make the pathway to international universities as smooth as possible, but social prestige and kudos also play a part.
British and American schools
There are many benefits of sending a child to one of Poland’s international schools. The most obvious are the qualifications on offer, in particular the American High School and the International Baccalaureate diplomas, which are the most common gateways to higher education abroad. These schools focus on small teaching groups and personal development, interesting and abundant extracurricular activities and diverse and multinational parent, teacher and student groups. Just bear in mind, that you get what you pay for and these benefits, do not come cheap.
For English speaking expats, the top two on the leader-board for popularity are the British School, Warsaw and the American School of Warsaw (not to be confused with the much smaller International American School of Warsaw). Generally, the Brits opt for the familiarity, structure and rigor of the English Curriculum and the Americans prefer the American based curriculum and spacious campus facilities.
Other international schools
The Canadian School of Warsaw only teaches up to 16 but the International European School offers the choice of A Levels or the IB Diploma and the Monnet International School runs an all-through International Baccalaureate programme. These schools, in general, have a high percentage of Polish children and a curriculum which, although taught in English or French (in the case of the lycée) is largely focused on the Polish system and are thus considered, by expats, to be a ‘second tier’ to the British and American Schools.
The curriculum varies between the schools but usually has a focus on the Polish core curriculum as defined by the Polish Ministry of Education ( https://men.gov.pl/) Polish nationals are required to cover these core subjects including Polish language, Polish history and geography, Polish maths, Polish science - biology chemistry and physics.
At High School level, a more flexible approach can be adopted by the schools. For example, at the International American School different programmes are taught in tandem with three paths to graduation including the Polish Matura, American High School Diploma and IB Diploma programme.
The Lycée Francais René Goscinny provides a full French education and is one of the oldest members (1919) of the French Agency for Education Abroad (AEFE) and the German school Willy Brandt Deutsche Schule Warschau appeals to English-speaking families who wish for their children to leave Warsaw bi-lingual in one of those languages (as an alternative to Polish as a preferred second language).
In particular this approach is taken in early years education (nursery through to year 2). For example where English is spoken at home, the French and German schools will expose children to a foreign language and also offer introductory Polish classes - a good and well used option in Warsaw if you are happy to move your children around to cement a bi/trilingual education, at an early age. If you want to go further and give your children a genuine trilingual start, there is also the International Trilingual School of Warsaw, which offers French, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish in addition to English and Polish.
The French (primary school), German school and the British School, Warsaw are all located in the vicinity of the Sadyba/Wilanow area. This provides families with an option to use different schools for children within the same family depending on what grades they are in.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Warsaw considered by expats'.
The school commute
Very few families brave a long walk along the cracked and often icy pavements, possibly sharing it with vehicles who readily hump a kerb to shave a few minutes off their journey time. For families used to hopping on scenic ferries to school, walking along country lanes or cycling along canal paths, driving to school can be a bit of a downer. However, when it plummets to a chilly minus 20° in winter or rises to a sweaty 35°C in summer, the car becomes a hero.
Generally, families tend to keep school journeys short (approx 10-15 mins) by choosing to live near their school, primarily around the Wilanow/Sadbya area (home to the International European School as well as the British, French and German schools and a host of pre-school options). The British School runs a bus service for the little ones between the main campus to the Early Years Campus, a short distance across Warsaw. The thought of putting your little three year old on a bus can pull at the heart strings but if a parent can get over this hurdle, it is a practical and well used service.
The school run for the American School of Warsaw, located in Konstancin, an open area south of the city, is an exception, given that a large proportion of families opt to live in the compound ‘bubble’ surrounding the school, making afternoon sports and activities as well as family events easy to get to. Older children can and do cycle or walk to school by themselves. The American School also arranges a door-to-door mini-bus service at a fee.
All in all, the school commute at the international schools can be a sociable time. Children from 60 countries are being dropped off, saying their goodbyes in a range of languages and parting gestures. The eclectic mix of parents, some sporting stilettoes in the snow, some opting for a puffa over PJ’s, certainly brightens up a grey Warsaw day. Car-pooling is also common as parents often have larger cars deemed suitable for the potholes and therefore have a capacity for additional children.
Polish education system
Some families, however, prefer schools dominated by stable populations of local Polish children over the more transient international schools, populated by expat families coping with two to three year corporate and diplomatic postings. Children are also more likely to pick up Polish as a second language from their peers in the playground.
Expat families can opt to apply to the Polish public school system (non-fee paying). However, many decide that this is not a suitable option as expat children who have no, or only a very basic, knowledge of Polish would find it difficult to keep up in a regular Polish school. Even where children speak neither English nor Polish, families tend to select international schools with a British, American or partially IB curriculum if they’re looking for an education that’s recognised internationally and can be transferred between countries.
Despite the above, there are some expat families who may wish to immerse their children - in ‘the deep end is good for you, darling’ parenting style - in the free education of their host country and indeed some do. If the long-term career agenda has Poland in the five year + box, or a child is already competent in another language at home or maybe has a Polish parent or Polish connections, this can be a viable option, albeit more often for younger children.
Following the reforms in Poland, children spend more time studying core academic subjects and vocational study has been delayed until 16 years of age. Poles take great pride in their education and hold the belief that by doing well in school, their children can do more in their lives. The key stages are:
Children now start school at age five in an introductory pre-school year.
There are six years of primary school. The first school years (I-III) are taught through integrated education system lead by one teacher. School years IV-VI are divided into subjects taught by specialized teachers. The six years of primary school end with the Certificate of Completion of Primary School Education.
The three years of Gymnasium include a more detailed curriculum. For example, science is divided into: physics with astronomy, biology, geography and chemistry. Social science is divided into history and sociology. The final exams taken after the 3rd year are then decisive for the further education. After Gymnasium, school is no longer compulsory.
Liceum, Technikum and Szkola Zawodowa
Those who want to study after Gimnazjum can choose between a Liceum for three years or a Technical College Technikum for four years. Alternatively, students can attend a Vocational school (Szkola Zawodowa) for two years that focuses on preparation for manual professions.
Following the completion of education in a Liceum or Technikum, students can pass the maturity examination (Matura) to obtain a Maturity Certificate, which allows them to take entrance exams to higher education according to their choice, often a University, University of Technology or Medical Academy.
Private, fee-paying education is relatively new in Poland, having only been introduced in the late 1980s. Many private schools in Poland are run by religious or social organisations and can also rely on private or parent donations. These schools are independent of the government and not restricted to following the national curriculum.
A down to earth city but the old motto ‘Fall in Love with Warsaw’ often proves true for foreign students. Another well-coined phrase ‘Warsaw will make you cry twice – once when you know you are moving there and secondly when you leave’ - is also well-demonstrated. Tears at school graduations are often as much for the city and what it has given them, as for their fellow peers.