"Education remains too much of a lottery," says the report from Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector. Schools with similar intakes in both the inner cities and the suburbs are performing very differently.
His report records that in some schools in affluent areas less than half of 11-year-olds are reaching the expected standard in English, well below the national average.
Mr Woodhead said yesterday: "Schools in the leafy suburbs have no excuse whatsoever for underachievement. These schools should be pushing the boundaries for children. Some don't."
Overall, teachers are teaching better. Only around 12 per cent of lessons are poor compared with 16 per cent a year ago and around 30 per cent four years ago.
Yet the proportion of bad schools remains unchanged. The problems of one in 10 continue to be "desperately intractable", says Mr Woodhead.
Overall, teaching is good in almost half of lessons and less than satisfactory in one in eight. Most bad teaching is to be found in classes of eight- and nine-year-olds in primary schools and among 13- and 14-year-olds in secondary schools.
Despite the improvements, Mr Woodhead insisted that his controversial figure for 13,000 bad teachers still stood.
Where schools are failing, the fault is often that of the head. One in six primary and one in 10 secondary heads - more than 3,000 overall - lack the drive and determination to give proper leadership.
Mr Woodhead applauds a change in culture among teachers which has led to the agreement of teacher unions to new procedures for sacking bad teachers. "Four years ago, the idea that any teacher might be incompetent was dismissed as a ludicrous right-wing plot. Nobody now tries to defend the indefensible."
The culture change was clear, too, in the move towards more traditional teaching methods, such as whole-class teaching, setting by ability and more emphasis on the 3Rs. All have been backed by Mr Woodhead since he came into post four years ago.
But primary schools must do even better if they are to achieve the Government's ambitious targets, the report says.
Marking is not tough enough in some schools, Mr Woodhead said. Teachers either do not mark work or they fail to correct all the mistakes. Many do not use the information gained from assessment to help pupils.
The report also suggests that the tests for seven-year-olds may be too easy. Pupils may find themselves struggling in junior schools because the tests present too rosy a picture.
Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, said: "This is good news. It is clear that schools are beginning to rise to the challenge which we have set them. However, there is still much work to be done. There can be no room for complacency."
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The chief inspector seems to think he can switch on and off his approval of schools at random. Excellence should be celebrated but we have a very long way to go before trust can be restored between teachers and the chief inspector."Reuse content