One in four schools and colleges are failing to ensure students score the A-level grades often required by top universities, new league tables suggest.
And tens of thousands of youngsters are still attending under-performing schools which are failing to meet tough targets on the numbers of pupils gaining decent GCSEs.
In total, 195 schools in England, collectively teaching around 167,000 children, are falling below the Government's new floor target for secondaries, the figures show. This means that less than 40% of their pupils are gaining at least five GCSEs at grade C or higher, including English and maths, and students are not making good enough progress in these two core subjects.
Ministers have raised the floor target since last year (2011), but if this year's measure was applied to last year's results, 251 schools would have dropped below it. The new tables are based on data provided by the Department for Education (DfE) and show how every school and college in England performed at GCSE and A-level in 2012.
For the first time, the Government has published figures on the numbers of pupils at each school or college that are scoring at least two A grades and a B at A-level in "facilitating" subjects, including English Literature, maths, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and languages.
These are subjects preferred, or required more often, by Russell Group universities, which are considered among the top institutions in the UK. An initial analysis of the latest statistics suggests that at around 600 schools and colleges - just over one in four - out of more than 2,000, no A-level student scored AAB in facilitating subjects. It suggests that private schools are much more likely to have students taking academic A-levels. Out of just 19 schools with 50% or more A-level students gaining AAB, 13 are fee-paying.
At Magdalen College School in Oxford and St Paul's Girls' School in London 70% of sixth-formers scored at least AAB in facilitating subjects.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group said: "We agree A-level choices really matter. Too few students realise that some subjects and subject combinations can keep open wider degree course options at leading universities. However, it would be wrong to use this simple indicator as a measure of the number of pupils in a school who are qualified to apply successfully to a Russell Group university."
Selective schools dominated the tables again this year. The top school for GCSE results was Colyton Grammar School in Devon. The co-educational school entered 117 pupils for GCSEs and equivalent exams this year, and all got at least five qualifications at grade C or higher. Headteacher Paul Evans joked: "If I knew the secret of how we did it, I'd bottle it and sell it."
The most improved school was Trinity High School and Sixth Form Centre in Redditch, Worcestershire. Its GCSE results have risen from 32% getting five A*-C including English and maths in 2009 to 80% this year, with headteacher Marian Barton said she was "delighted" to learn the school was the most improved.