The report, by David Gillborn and Caroline Gipps, of London University's Institute of Education, finds that social class is one of the strongest indicators of pupil performance, but notes a dramatic improvement in certain disadvantaged groups, such as Bangladeshi pupils in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
African-Caribbean pupils, particularly boys, are not achieving the same level of success as other groups, the report says, and in some areas they are falling further behind their peers.
Asian secondary school pupils make better progress than whites of the same social class. Even three years after the end of compulsory education, a majority of Asians are at school or college. But some ethnic-minority groups, despite their increasing participation in higher education, still appear to suffer from discrimination when they apply to older universities.
In the London borough of Brent, which has the largest proportion of ethnic-minority pupils, Asian children are the most successful. Their average GCSE score rose by eight points (from 30 to 38) between 1991 and 1993. This compares with an increase of 5.4 for whites (26.9 to 32.5) and 6.5 for African-Caribbean (19.1 to 25.6).
In Birmingham, which has the largest number of ethnic-minority pupils, there is also an increasing gap between the highest-achieving group (whites) and the lowest (African Caribbean).
Bangladeshi children, whose parents are often not fluent in English and are usually employed in manual jobs, were shown in 1980 research to be performing well below the level of other ethnic groups. But in Tower Hamlets, which has identified and targeted Bangladeshi pupils' needs, they are now the most successful group in the borough.
The report notes widespread racial harassment of ethnic-minority pupils, which is not always recognised by teachers. The authors say: "Research in infant, primary and secondary schools has recorded an unusually high degree of conflict between white teachers and African-Caribbean pupils. Despite their best intentions, teachers' actions can create and amplify conflict."
The report calls for more accurate monitoring of ethnic-minority pupils and argues: "Failure to address ethnic diversity has proved counter-productive. Where schools have adopted 'colour-blind' policies, inequalities of opportunity have been seen to continue."