A lack of political will is leading to a "growing divide" in performance between schools in the North and South of England, the head of Ofsted has warned.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said secondary schools in smaller towns across the North and the Midlands were failing to keep pace even though the difference in funding was "not that great".
Children in the two areas are much less likely to attend a good or outstanding secondary school than their counterparts in the South, with well over 400,000 children in the North and Midlands going to a secondary school that is less than good.
Sir Michael insisted "political will makes a difference" and said he would support incentives to attract the best teachers to schools in under-performing areas.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There is a growing divide between the performance of secondary schools in London and the South and the performance of secondary schools in the Midlands and the North."
Sir Michael is launching his fourth annual Ofsted report which argues that the divide cannot simply be explained away by the higher levels of economic deprivation in the North and Midlands.
It points out that there is no difference in the quality of primary schools across the country or in the achievement of seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.
While more children are attending good or outstanding schools than ever before, that improvement is largely down to improvements in primary schools, and the overall performance of England's secondary schools continues to lag behind that of primaries.
Sir Michael added: "What makes the difference in school performance, as everyone knows, is the quality of leadership and the quality of teaching. If we can get good leaders into those schools, if we can get good teachers into those schools, if the culture of those schools improves, particularly behaviour, then we'll see better institutions."
The report will highlight 16 local authority areas in England where fewer than 60% of the children attend good or outstanding secondary schools, and make less than average progress and achieve lower than average grades at GCSE. All but three of these are in the North and Midlands, and many of them are satellite towns of major cities.
It will identify teacher recruitment as a very real problem across the country, with continued shortages in key subjects like science, technology and maths made worse by the number of newly-qualified teachers leaving to teach abroad or in the independent sector.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: "The landscape of English education has been transformed over the past five years through raising both standards and expectations.
"Thanks to the hard work of teachers across the country and our ambitious programme of reforms, there are now record numbers of pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools.
"This progress should not be ignored, but like Sir Michael Wilshaw we believe more needs to be done to deliver educational excellence everywhere and tackle pockets of under-performance, so that we can extend opportunity to every single child.
"That's why we are introducing new measures to transform failing and coasting schools, funding the best academy chains to share excellence in struggling regions in the North and creating a National Teaching Service - sending some of our best teachers to the areas that need them most."