One in four schools and colleges are not producing any students with top grades in subjects that will help them win a place at a leading university, according to new league tables.
Tens of thousands of teenagers are being let down by schools which are failing to ensure pupils leave with decent GCSE results and 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 this year, the Government has also 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.
These are subjects that are 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 - no A-level student scored AAB in facilitating subjects.
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.
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.
Headteacher Marian Barton said she was "delighted" to learn the school was the most improved.
She said: "Our results were quite stupendous last year and we're expecting to maintain that improvement this year."
"We've come on a journey of continuous improvement over the past four years," she added.
2012's bottom school for GCSEs was Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham.
It had no pupils getting five A*-C including English and maths, according to the data.
This was because the school, which saw all pupils achieve this standard last year, had used a new English exam which was not included in this measure, the DfE said.
Pate's headmaster Russel Ellicott said: "We decided to move our English curriculum to an IGCSE, not currently counted in the league tables, because we decided that particular curriculum included a greater depth of learning, having fewer texts but students look at them in greater detail."
He added: "We are secure in the knowledge that we have chosen the right curriculum."
At Rushden Community College specialising in mathematics and computing, Northamptonshire, 6% of pupils got five A* to C grades including English and maths.
Headteacher Mark Lester said the college had entered pupils for the English language and English exams but not English literature, which he said is the one counted by the DfE.
"Because of the decision made by the DfE about which English specification counts, we fall foul of that particular loophole."
Mr Lester said that if his students' English exams had been counted, their pass rate including English and maths would have been 46%.
"I would hope that anybody who looks at the tables, rather than just looking at one figure, will see that's not the case," he added.
The latest tables also include figures on the number of pupils achieving the Government's new English Baccalaureate.
To gain the EBacc, pupils must score at least a C in English, maths, science, history or geography and a language at GCSE.
Overall, 16% of state school pupils achieved the EBacc this year.
Around 88% of sponsored academies - which usually take over failing schools - are offering the EBacc, the DfE said.
A spokesman for the department said: "These figures are further evidence of the great success of the academy programme in turning around our weakest schools - sponsored academies are improving their GCSE results five times faster than other schools."
When told his school had topped the table, Colyton Grammar School headteacher Paul Evans joked: "If I knew the secret of how we did it, I'd bottle it and sell it."
He said he was "very pleased" at the school's success.
"We were fourth last year, so it's very positive for us to have moved up," said Mr Evans. "I have got brilliant staff and we are very lucky to have students who are committed to learning, with supportive parents."