More must be done to help both weaker and stronger pupils in maths, according to a major survey.
The Ofsted report Mathematics: Made To Measure also highlighted a dramatic increase in the take-up of the subject and further maths at A-level, and showed that the youngest children are doing better.
It found GCSE and A-level results continue to improve thanks to the sustained efforts of teachers and students. Between January 2008 and July 2011, inspectors visited 160 primary and 160 secondary schools and observed more than 470 primary and 1,200 secondary mathematics lessons.
They judged that more than half the schools were outstanding or good in maths. But there remained three key areas where maths teaching at English primary and secondary schools must be improved.
The survey found not enough is being done to help pupils who fall behind early to catch up. The 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age seven doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by 16.
Second, the inspectors found pupils in lower ability sets and younger pupils received the weakest teaching. They saw outstanding and satisfactory teaching, and sometimes inadequate too, within an individual school.
And finally, many of the brightest pupils do not fulfil their potential when they get to secondary school. Figures showed that 37,000 of the highest attaining primary school pupils went on to achieve no better than a grade C at GCSE in maths last year.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "I want all children to have the best education they can and mathematics is a fundamental part of that. It is essential for everyday life and understanding of our world."
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "Too many young people fall behind in maths, and never get the chance to catch up in a subject which is critical in life and the workplace. The report highlights the variation in maths teaching even within schools. There is clearly a need to look at training and ongoing professional development for maths teachers.
"We also need to make sure our system gives more opportunities for those that don't do well in their GCSEs, or earlier, to get additional support and tuition with maths rather than just being entered for a re-sit."