Only two-thirds of black pupils get their first choice of secondary school, compared with 90 per cent of those classified as white British pupils, according to new research.
The study, by the universities of Cambridge and Bristol, looked at secondary school choices for 526,000 pupils across England at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.
It also found that only 72 per cent of Asian households received their first-choice offer.
Read: Public backs comprehensives over grammar schools to improve social mobility
Tes community: On private schools vs comprehensives
However, the co-author of the research, Professor Anna Vignoles, said the lower success rate was not necessarily a negative, as it showed that black and minority ethnic (BME) households were “potentially more ambitious” in their choice of school and therefore ended end up being less successful in securing their first choice.
She said: “One of our arguments is that in a school choice system that is working well, you want parents to be ambitious and choose their genuinely preferred school and make lots of choices.
“It is striking that minority ethnic parents do seem to want to use the system to a greater extent and make more choices.”
She said that, in general, there appeared to be “a degree of caution” being exhibited whereby parents were more likely to put down the school that they had the greatest chance of their child being admitted to (often their nearest) when they were only permitted three choices.
She added: "Due to the limit in the number of options allowed, first-choice schools may be 'safe' rather than 'ambitious'.
"The data shows that the quality of parents' first-choice school is higher in local authorities where more choices are permitted, suggesting that where more choices are allowed, parents are more ambitious.”
The researchers suggest that the secondary school choice system is unfair to households in areas where parents are given fewer options.
Co-author Ellen Greaves, from the University of Bristol, added: "The school a pupil attends can affect their attainment and enjoyment of school, ultimately affecting their life chances.
"Understanding the functioning of the school-choice system and how pupils are allocated to schools is therefore critical if we are to understand and improve educational equality and social mobility."
In their report, entitled School choice in England: evidence from national administrative data, researchers found that almost half of black pupils’ families (48 per cent) applied to four or more secondary schools, compared with 10 per cent of white British households.
They found that 41 per cent of white British households applied to just one secondary school, compared with 12 per cent of black families and 17 per cent of Asian families.
The 41 per cent figure did not take into account the fact that black and ethnic minority families might be more likely to live in urban areas where there are more choices of school. However the researchers said that even when location was accounted for, minority ethnic households still made more choices.
The research also found that only 72 per cent of households with English as an additional language (EAL) received their first choice of school compared with 88 per cent of non-EAL, but at the same time, that 34 per cent of EAL household applied for four of more schools, compared with 25 per cent of non-EAL.
The number of free school meal (FSM) pupils who received their first choice compared with non-FSM was almost identical, at 85 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.