Secondary schools in Blackpool, Knowsley and Salford are "dire", the chief inspector of schools has said.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector, Ofsted, highlighted Blackpool in particular in his address to head teachers in Lancashire.
He said two thirds of schools in the resort are rated as either "inadequate" or "requiring improvement".
But he added schools in the rest of the county were "setting the benchmark" for other areas of the country.
Sir Michael told a Chorley meeting of the Lancashire Association of Secondary School Headteachers that their hard work and leadership meant more than 55,000 Lancashire schoolchildren are "benefitting from a good or better" secondary education.
But he added the life chances of thousands of secondary school-age children were being restricted in other parts of the region.
"Secondary school standards in places like Salford, Knowsley and down the M55 from here, in Blackpool, are, to put it bluntly, dire," he said.
"Two-thirds of secondary schools in Blackpool are inadequate or require improvement, while only 42% of 16-year-olds achieved five A* to C GCSEs this year."
Sir Michael praised Lancashire's schools and said: "I am really pleased that secondary schools in Lancashire are in many ways setting the benchmark for other areas of the country, particularly in the north of England."
Lancashire is not responsible for schools in Blackpool and Blackburn With Darwen, which are unitary authorities.
A Blackpool Council spokesperson said all of the secondary schools in its area were academies and therefore directly answerable to the Department for Education (DoE), which said it would be sending "expert teachers to schools in struggling areas, beginning in the North West".
A DoE spokeswoman added that a £5m grant had been allocated among five academy organisations "tasked with driving up standards in schools across the north of England - where historically performance has been poor" as part of the Northern Sponsor Fund.
Knowsley Council's cabinet member for children's services, Gary See, said it was "trying to identify the best approach for educating children", which included converting some schools into academies.
He said the authority's schools had seen a 3.7% increase in students achieving A*-C GCSE grades, which was "the biggest percentage improvement in the whole of the North West", adding: "We know there is still work to be done but improvements are being made and we are on the right track."