States and territories have been told to get back to basics after Australian students recorded poor results in reading, maths and science.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has found the maths skills of Australian students slid back at least a year compared to their international counterparts.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the disappointing results should have alarm bells ringing.
"Our students should be ranked among the best in the world. We should not accept anything less," he said on Wednesday.
Mr Tehan told the states and territories to pull their socks up.
"My message to the state and territory education ministers is this: leave the teachers' union talking points at home and be ambitious," he said.
"Our school systems also need to de-clutter their curriculums and get back to basics."
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese laid blame for the poor results at the feet of the federal government.
"This is a big F, a big F for fail, and it will be of concern to every parent out there ... and indeed students."
Australia ranked 16th in reading, 29th in maths and 17th in science, while the grouped Chinese provinces of Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang topped each category.
Australian students were now three-and-a-half years behind their Chinese counterparts in maths, three years in science and one-and-a-half in reading.
Mr Tehan will canvass solutions at a meeting of education ministers in Alice Springs next week.
He called on state and territory education ministers to back the entire National School Reform Agreement and include phonics as part of teacher training.
The report shows maths performance is down in all states and territories, with particularly significant declines recorded in SA, NSW, Tasmania, WA and the ACT.
It also notes a significant maths performance gender gap in favour of boys has returned, despite being closed in 2015.
PISA is an international measurement of how well-equipped students nearing the end of compulsory schooling are to meet real-life challenges.
More than 600,000 students in 79 countries and economies took part in last year's PISA, including more than 14,000 Australian students in 740 schools.
Labor education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek called on the government to explain how it will turn the situation around.
"If our kids can't read, write and do maths and science, then we've failed," she said.
"Those subjects are the building blocks of a good education."