Lyneham High School principal Colleen Matheson speaks to students in the year 8 science class at the school.

Lyneham High School principal Colleen Matheson speaks to students in the year 8 science class at the school. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Lyneham High School principal Colleen Matheson puts ACT educational excellence down to one thing: teaching.

As the head of one of Canberra's highest-achieving government high schools, Ms Matheson said she was not surprised the ACT had outranked not only the other Australian states and territories in the first comprehensive international assessment of reading, maths and science, but had leapfrogged other high-achieving countries as well.

According to the results of the International Reading Literacy Study and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study which was sat concurrently across nearly 50 countries last year, the ACT came fifth in the world in year 4 reading. Australia came 21st.

While Australia's performance was below international averages in a number of categories, the ACT met or beat all benchmarks when its results were separated from the rest of the countries.

''It is gratifying to see these results, but not necessarily surprising,'' Ms Matheson said.

Having been a principal for 13 years, Ms Matheson said the ACT's strong focus since 2009 on quality teaching and literacy and numeracy had paid dividends in ensuring local students received an internationally competitive education. ''Literacy and numeracy field officers have been working in a number of schools alongside teachers, shoulder-to-shoulder, making sure no student is left behind,'' she said.

''I think it ultimately comes down to quality teaching.''

University of Canberra Dean of Education Professor Geoffrey Riordan said the ACT's education system was superior for a number of reasons, including the territory's small size, high socio-economic status, comparatively well-resourced schools, a progressive system and professionalism of teachers.

''It's probably due to a whole range of things, but it is definitely a big pat on the back to all the teachers in the ACT who work in an often thankless profession and who have now had their efforts recognised.'' But while the ACT was congratulating itself, recriminations for the country's middling performance began on Wednesday with Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne called Labor's so-called ''education revolution'' a failed experiment.

''Julia Gillard promised nothing short of an education revolution in 2007, and now the report card is in - Australian students were beaten by many countries in maths and science, and all other English-speaking countries in reading,'' he said.

''The Schools Minister Peter Garrett claims these results are a 'wake-up call', but what has Labor been doing for the last five years? Julia Gillard, our so-called Education Prime Minister needs to explain where the education revolution went wrong.''

But Peter Garrett deflected responsibility for the poor test outcome, saying ''One of the things to remember is that these tests were done in 2010. In 2010 we initiated the Gonski panel inquiry into education, because we knew that we needed to look at our funding model.''

''We've had quite a bit of investment, significant investment from this government in national partnerships on things like teacher quality. A lot of that investment has happened subsequent to when kids did these tests and I'm seeing some welcome signs of improvement, where we've focused effort on our children,'' Mr Garrett said.