CHESHIRE'S secondary schools are ahead of the national average in new Government league tables.
Cheshire as a whole has been named the best performing local education authority in the North West and been placed 16th nationwide.
It is the first year the Department for Education and Science has published figures for the percentage of pupils, aged 11-13, attaining Level Five at English, maths and science.
In English, 77% of Cheshire pupils achieved that standard, compared to 69% nationally. In maths the figure was 76%, compared to 71%, and in science it was 75%, against the average of 68%.
Locally, Ellesmere Port Catholic High, Whitby High and Neston High beat the national average on all three subjects but Stanney High and Sutton High came in beneath all the national averages.
County Hall education executive member David Rowlands said: 'I am delighted we have both maintained our position ahead of national averages and also managed to improve on last year's already high figures. These results are showing the benefit of literacy and numeracy programmes introduced in our primary schools over the last few years.
'They are also a reflection of our own Key Stage Three strategy, implemented in 2001, with the aim of maintaining the improved standards in our primary schools through to the first three years of secondary education.'
He added: 'Cheshire's standard of education is rightly prized by parents and, once again, I thank everyone involved in helping to achieve this latest success.'
But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the school rankings were 'flawed, misleading and unnecessary.'
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: 'Performance tables for 14-year-olds are an unnecessary irrelevance.
'They serve no useful purpose when the tests themselves are of a totally different order to GCSEs or A-levels.'
School Standards Minister David Miliband believes the tables are vital to monitoring the progress of teenagers.
He said: 'Testing helps support this improvement in schools. It provides a benchmark for standards ensuring that poorer areas do not get left behind.'
Nationally, improvements in English were up by 2%, maths up by 4% and science up by 1%.