Australia could learn from education powerhouses Singapore and Finland and restructure the daily school experience for students, according to federal Education Department boss Michele Bruniges.
Looking to the nature and structure of school learning in high performing countries overseas and improving the value placed on the teaching profession could help lift academic performance, Dr Bruniges said, along with better use of existing student performance data.
In an interview with Melbourne University's Policy Shop podcast, the former NSW public servant and OECD student assessment board chair, said national teaching standards needed to be effectively implemented to ensure school selection was not "a lottery".
"I think there are many lessons that we need to take stock of from our colleagues in high performing countries," she said.
"Some of the research that are done in places like Singapore, like Finland, actually look at the nature and structure of the day.
"They look at the high value of teaching as the status of the teaching profession which is incredibly important. They look at principalship and the importance of school leadership."
Dr Bruniges said research on the most effective use of teachers in schools, class sizes and smaller group learning helped high performing countries meet students' needs.
Recent rankings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found Singapore out performed developed countries on the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems, with countries including Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada close behind.
Australia was found to be among countries where the share of students performing at the highest levels was falling, at the same time as the share of low performing students increased.
In June, Australia ranked 39 out of 41 high and middle-income countries in achieving quality education, according to a United Nations Children's Fund report.
An expert in education measurement, Dr Bruniges said Australia needed to better learn from data about students' progress.
"Having the right scales to be able to look at the data we're collecting, look at the validity and the reliability of data that we have before us, to rely and form strategic partnerships and alliances with the university sector and third party providers who do have a great deal of evidence and to link that evidence up to inform policy discussion.
"To me it's absolutely critical."
She said linking schools data with education policy and national standards would help improve students' lives.
"I think the National Professional Teaching Standards go a long way towards [consistent results] but what you have to do is to ensure that they're operationalised or implemented in each school section.
"Part of ensuring that we do that, is that we focus on our school leadership, [on] performance development cycles for teachers and where their professional learning dollars are spent goes to areas of weakness that are identified.
"That we performance develop our staff and that we be really frank and fearless about providing good constructive feedback to teachers about where they're doing wrong and where they're not doing so well," she said.