The major northern cities that helped to build Britain are now failing to give many schoolchildren a decent education, Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw is warning.
Government plans to create a "Northern Powerhouse" will "splutter and die" if more is not done to improve the performance of schools in the region, according to Sir Michael.
- Michael Wilshaw spoke to ITV's Good Morning Britain
Manchester and Liverpool are the engines that could "transform" the prospects of the entire area but secondary education in these cities is not up to scratch and may be getting worse, he suggests.
Ofsted figures show that three in 10 Manchester secondaries, and four in 10 of those in Liverpool are rated as less than good and that the proportion of teenagers gaining at least five C grades at GCSE - including English and maths, has dropped in both places.
Councillor Rosa Battle, Manchester City Council's lead member for schools, said Sir Michael's comments were recognition that "local authorities and local politicians need to have a strong role in school improvement".
"Our results last year obviously saw a dip," she told ITV News. "But far from ignoring this we've taken a long hard look at the issues involved and have put a series of measures in place to overcome these, because we're simply not prepared to sit back and watch our pupils fail."
Councillor Nick Small of Liverpool City Council also acknowledged Sir Michael's comments, saying: "If our residents - and our young people - in particular don't have the right skills for the jobs of the future then the Northern Powerhouse will be an empty political slogan.
"If we're going to balance the UK economy so that cities like Liverpool can contribute more to UK growth then we need more powers to influence the whole education and skills system to make sure we're delivering what Liverpool businesses want."
Sir Michael's speech comes the same day Ofsted published an open letter to those responsible for education across Greater Manchester.
It the letter Chris Russell, the watchdog's regional director for the North West, raises concerns that many pupils attending secondary schools in towns including Salford, Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester are not being properly prepared to go on to university, training or the workplace.