Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned that the major northern cities are failing to provide high enough standards of education to secondary school pupils.
Government plans to create a Northern Powerhouse could "splutter and die" if more isn't done to boost education standards, according to Sir Michael.
Ofsted figures show that three in 10 Manchester secondary schools, and four in 10 of those in Liverpool, are rated as less than good.
In addition, the proportion of teenagers gaining at least five C grades at GCSE - including English and maths - has dropped in both places.
In his latest annual report, published in December, Sir Michael warned that England is “a nation divided at age 11”, with a performance gap between schools in the north and Midlands and those in the south.
The schools inspector has now called for Manchester and Liverpool to follow the example of London, which has seen a rise in school standards in recent years. He is urging local politicians to take responsibility for their schools - to challenge and support them to improve.
"Today, Manchester and Liverpool boast eight universities between them, two of which are among the top 200 in the world. They are beacons of higher educational excellence. But if these cities can provide a world-class education for youngsters at 18, why on earth are they failing to do so for too many at 11?" Sir Michael stated.
Posted by Charlotte Michaels