He said that the numbers of pupils achieving five top-grade GCSEs had increased in more than 70 per cent of schools: "This year's tables also show that 41 per cent of 15-year-old pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A to C - an improvement of 2 per cent on 1994.
"Performance at A and AS levels matched that achieved in 1994, again an improvement on 1992 results. Four years ago, two-thirds of 16-year-olds stayed on at school or went on to further education. Now nearly three-quarters do."
Endorsing the Welsh Office's programme of education improvements, A Bright Future, Mr Hague said it was not good enough that around 40 per cent of Welsh children had not attained the standards expected in basic literacy and numeracy at the end of primary school.
He also revealed that one in nine pupils left school without a single GCSE, and the rate of progress towards reaching national targets for five top-grade GCSEs, intermediate GNVQs and NVQ level 2 was falling consistently behind England's.
The Welsh average of 41 per cent of pupils aged 15 obtaining five or more GCSEs at grades A to C compares with 43.5 per cent in England.
Mr Hague said the programme's target for the year 2000 is for half of all 15-year-olds to achieve an A to C grade in GCSE mathematics, science and English (or Welsh first language). At present, under a third achieve this level.
Top of the local education authority table is Powys, with 50 per cent of 15-year-olds gaining five or more GCSEs with grades of C or above. Mid Glamorgan was bottom, with only 33 per cent getting these grades.
There seemed little enthusiasm for the tables in the principality itself.
John Howells, assistant director of education in Gwent (where 37 per cent of GCSE pupils gained the benchmark grades A to C) said: "Gwent education authority does not believe it is appropriate to attempt to judge schools' performance in the context of comparative league tables. They are unrealistic and we do not consider them of any relevance."
Allan Jones, national executive member of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "You may as well look in the nearest estate agent's window to assess the status of a school."
There were 7,500 pupils aged between 16 and 18 entered for two or more A-levels or equivalent, and a further 2,500 full-time students at further education colleges. Of the school pupils, 85 per cent achieved the equivalent of two A-level grades A to E, and 49 per cent the grades A to C. Of further education college students, 77 per cent achieved the equivalent of two A-level grades A to E, and 41 per cent A to C.
* Results data from Welsh further education colleges is more comprehensive than from those in England. The information is split to show scores for both full and part-time candidates, while the numbers of students achieving vocational qualifications are shown separately for levels 2 and 3.
However, unlike their English counterparts, the Welsh tables do not reveal what proportion of final-year candidates in each college achieve vocational qualifications.