AUSTRALIAN students who say they are bullied often at school perform poorly compared with students who feel safe.
New international tests on reading, maths and science found the academic performance of year 4 students dropped significantly when they experienced frequent bullying.
These results were consistent across all three subject areas.
The international tests showed Australia also lagged behind many countries in these subjects, prompting calls to better support teachers to improve students' performance.
The researchers measured students' feelings about personal safety by asking how often they were called names, had lies spread about them, were hurt by other students, excluded from games, had something stolen from them or were made to do things they did not want to do.
One-quarter of Australian year 4 students said they were bullied often at school, while about 38 per cent said they were almost never bullied.
The Australian Council for Educational Research's director of educational monitoring, Sue Thomson, said Australian schools should try to learn from other countries that reported lower rates of bullying.
She said 64 per cent of year 4 students in Ireland said they were almost never bullied, compared with 12 per cent who were bullied often.
''It's never nice to think about year 4 kids being bullied,'' she said.
''It's certainly not going to help them like school or want to do well in school.''
Australian students who were often bullied received a reading score of 509 compared with the average of 527, Ms Thomson said. Students who were almost never bullied scored 539 in reading.
Children in 26 other countries outscored Australian year 4 students in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.
In the 2011 Trends in International Maths and Science Study year 4 students from 21 countries performed better than Australian students. But Australian students improved substantially by year 8.
Monash University education professor Peter Sullivan said better professional support for teachers and more help from parents in educating their children could help to lift the performance of Australian students.
He said parents formed their children's reading habits from the ''earliest stages'' and it was important they read with their children.
The federal government has set a target of reaching the top five school systems in the world by 2025.
Professor Sullivan said teaching needed to be an attractive career for university graduates with maths and science degrees.
But the education system also needed to help current teachers improve their skills.
Albion North Primary School maths teacher Louise Treyvaud received professional training in maths three years ago, alongside several colleagues, some of whom have taken jobs at other schools. She said many students feared maths because they had missed out on crucial steps in learning.
After the teachers completed the training program the school set about repairing students' relationship with maths. Ms Treyvaud now runs intervention sessions where struggling students can catch up on parts of the curriculum in which they lack confidence.
Students had since had many ''epiphanies'' with maths and now looked forward to their lessons, Ms Treyvaud said. ''A lot of students were just hoping they'd never get asked a question in front of people,'' she said.
''We're trying to eliminate the fear of maths.''