Swindon has one of the lowest A-level pass rates in the country, with only 58 per cent of students taking the exams achieving two or more passes.

The figures, released by the Department for Education, place the local authority as the third lowest in A-level achievement in England.

The situation is even worse when looking at all level 3 education – which includes technical and applied 16-18 qualifications, alongside A-levels – for which Swindon drops to being the second-worst performing local authority in the country.

Graham Taylor, the principal of New College, which has Swindon’s largest A-level student population, said that sixth-form education was struggling to compensate for underachievement earlier in the education process.

He said: “I’ve been here for 20 years now, and, by and large, primary education has been okay historically.

“Secondary has been a real disappointment in the town, and has been for many years. It does perform below the national average.

“New College have about 600 learners retaking GCSE English, and about the same number doing maths – we can’t be expected to get the best grades.

“We get, on average, a C-minus here, but I think that’s a heck of an achievement given the qualifications students have when they come to us.”

New College offer free GCSE mathematics and English revision classes to pupils from secondary schools in the town, one of a number of measures being taken to try and improve grades at that level.

Mr Taylor said: “In fairness, Swindon Borough Council are really supporting school improvement in the town and are sponsoring a number of initiatives to try and improve the quality of Swindon’s schools.

“The schools here are really working hard with the borough to improve things.

“For me, it is disappointing. We have to put our hands up as a town to say that we do need to ramp up our work at secondary and post-16 level. At long last, people are now working together, and working hard with the borough council to make that happen.”

Fewer than three in five pupils who start A-levels in Swindon go on to pass two – significantly below the national average of 77 per cent.

7 per cent of pupils achieve grades of AAB in three A-levels, against a national average of 22 per cent. Across the south west, 19 per cent of A-level pupils achieve those grades.

1,122 students enrolled for A-levels to be completed in the 2016/17 academic year, and went to achieve an average grade of C-minus.

Only 53 per cent of male pupils completed two A-levels, 10 per cent lower than the rate among female pupils.

A spokesman for Swindon Borough Council said: “A-Level results in Swindon are clearly not as high as we would like, and that is due to a number of factors.

“For example, despite all our providers being rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, a number of very able students continue to travel outside of the borough to further their education.

“Many students make good progress from lower starting points, which has been recognised in inspections, but one of the key challenges is for these students to get the higher grades. This will then enable more young people to move on to higher education.

“In order to encourage students to get the highest possible grades a great deal of work is going on to raise their aspirations so they go the extra mile to get a place in higher education.”

He added that the council is working with Oxford Brookes University, who have secured £1.2m in funding to increase the number of pupils in the town going on to further education.