Schools in the North of England need "urgent attention", according to the first report by George Osborne's Northern Powerhouse think tank.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), which is chaired by the former chancellor, says the performance and aspirations of schools in the region need to be improved.
The report, developed with input from more than 200 businesses and civic and academic leaders, aims to identify what needs to be done to build a Northern Powerhouse where people want to live, invest and set up businesses.
According to the report, the area loses 30,000 graduates a year as students choose to move away after completing their studies.
Mr Osborne said the region is at a "turning point".
He said: "Many issues have been raised with us, from transport connections to devolution. But one challenge stood out: education.
"Our education system, right the way from the start of school to higher education, must provide the next generation with the skills, inspiration and training to fulfil their goals and build our economy.
"There is now overwhelming evidence that attainment at 16 is too low in the North, leaving us lagging behind the UK and international competitors.
"We also let go of far too many talented graduates.
"I will be asking a group of leading employers and education leaders to work together with the partnership to draw on the latest evidence and thinking to examine a number of key issues to put this right."
Lord Jim O'Neill, NPP board member, said the education system in the North "is not currently performing to its potential".
"In fact it is currently falling behind the South," he said.
"We need an education system that promotes and retains talent and we need to gain graduates, not lose them."
But Professor Stephen Gorard, from Durham University, said data did not support the case that schools in the north were under-performing once their intakes were taken into account.
"Do schools and colleges in the North East of England perform worse with equivalent students?" he said "No. So let’s not start by blaming the schools, teachers, students or families involved."
Ofsted's most recent annual report highlighted a North-South divide in secondary education. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools, said the under performance of the region's schools fed into a "wider malaise" that contributed to the vote to leave the European Union.
In December the children's commissioner, Anne Longfield, published a report showing that northern secondaries are lagging behind their Southern counterparts.
Commenting on the NPP report, she said: “This report is a timely reminder that if we want to ensure people in the North and South have the same opportunities to live happy, healthy and prosperous lives then devolution must have the interests of young people at its heart.
She added: “My Growing Up North project will look at how children’s prospects are shaped by their schooling and local environment and will suggest practical ways in which the Northern Powerhouse can have a positive impact on the lives of children and young people.”