Improving schools in the North of England should be "at the top of the in-tray" for the new Education Secretary, it has been suggested.
A new report argues there is still a significant North-South divide in education, with too many northern young people, especially those from disadvantaged homes, falling behind other parts of the UK.
Disadvantaged teenagers in the North of England score around a grade lower on average in their GCSEs compared to their better-off peers, according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) study.
It calls for action to boost the achievement and prospects of the region's young people, including urging businesses to mentor at least as many Northern schoolchildren as they have employees in the region.
Such a move could benefit at least 900,000 young people, aged 11 upwards, living in the North of England.
The report says the NPP was set up to increase the North's contribution to the UK economy, re-balance the country and to provide opportunities for 16 million people in the region.
But it warns this will not be achieved without tackling the low educational performance of a significant proportion of children in the area, particularly at GCSE level, and dealing with a skills gap.
Data shows the average GCSE score across eight subjects in 2016/17 among teenagers across the North, those living in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, was 45.1, compared to a national average of 46.1 and an average of 48.6 in London.
Separate figures for 2015/16 show that disadvantaged teenagers living in the North score around 13 points less across eight subjects than their better-off peers in the region.
This is equivalent to poorer pupils scoring around a grade lower on average, the report says.
Lord Jim O'Neill, NPP vice-chair said new Education Secretary Damian Hinds should make boosting the performance of Northern schools a top priority.
"For the Northern Powerhouse to succeed and deliver a North that pulls its weight in economic terms the first things we have to sort out are education and skills," he said.
"Sorting out schools in the Northern Powerhouse should be at the top of the new Education Secretary's in-tray, and we will be working closely with government to implement our recommendations."
A foreword to the report says: "In all the work we have done consulting with businesses in the North, poor skills and inadequate training come across consistently as the major issues.
"As our report documents, the facts show educational attainment in the North of England lags behind the South.
"Compared with London pupils, pupils in the North make a third of a grade less progress overall at 16 and almost half a grade less in mathematics on average, one in four of them at secondary schools judged by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement.
"Too many children in the North aren't getting the education they need or deserve."
The report argues that firms should pledge to offer youngsters meaningful careers advice and guidance, including work placements, to help boost skills and provide opportunities to youngsters in the North of England.
Among other recommendations are a call for extra money for early years services, and for disadvantaged pupils.