The UK has the second best education system in Europe and the sixth best in the world, according to newly published global rankings.
British pupils are behind only Finland when it comes to European nations, the league table says, with the top four places occupied by South Korea, Japan, Singapore and the city state of Hong Kong.
The results are found in the new Learning Curve Index, published by Pearson, which ranks 39 countries on their educational performance.
The man behind the figures, Sir Michael Barber, said the UK would perform higher if its students were not being held back by parents who believe intelligence is inherited and are either "born bright" or "not academic".
This tendency among UK parents means they are less likely to push their children to succeed at school than those in East Asian nations, Sir Michael said.
Completing the top 10 are Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland.
The report says that the UK's position is down to improvements in its scores in international tests as well as a rise in the university graduation rate.
Sir Michael, Pearson's chief education adviser and former adviser to Tony Blair, said the top five nations were "significantly ahead" of other countries.
Asked about the influence of parents, he said that in many Pacific Asian cultures, there is "a strong belief that effort will be rewarded" and that if you try hard and work hard you will achieve higher standards.
"Whereas in Britain and America, particularly, there is a perception that you are born either bright and the education system pulls that through, or doesn't. And that has a big impact on attitudes," he said.
But the news was welcomed by Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, who said it confirmed that the hard work of teachers and their heads was paying off.
“Given the criticism of schools by many of our politicians you could be forgiven for thinking that our education system compares unfavourably with others. Yet when alternative research becomes available, it shows a different picture," Mr Hobby said.
He added: “There is never room to be complacent and school leaders are ambitious for their pupils to reach the highest possible standards in all aspects of a well-rounded education.
"However, despite a challenging climate of squeezed budgets and sometimes hostile sound bites, the UK’s schools are working hard for pupils, with a respectable showing.
The new index, drawn up by the Economist Intelligence Unit, also says that a number of emerging economies are pumping more money into education, but that this is not yet improving results.
The report suggests that the nations taking the top positions have done so due to a "culture of accountability" which sees teachers, parents and pupils take responsibility for education.
Sir Michael said: "Governments around the world are under pressure to deliver better learning outcomes because they are increasingly important to people's lifelong success.
"The Learning Curve provides an ever-deeper knowledge base about precisely how education systems improve themselves.
"The rise of Pacific Asian countries, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort above inherited "smartness", is a phenomenon that other countries can no longer ignore."