Black pupils are just as likely to underachieve because of their social class or gender as for reasons of race, a study from the National Foundation for Educational Research has found.
The study, of more than 5,000 London infants, found that black boys, working-class boys and girls, and Pakistani girls all made significantly poorer progress than expected.
"It isn't true that some schools are good for whites and bad for ethnic minorities," said Dr Steve Strand, the report's author. "A school which is good for white girls from advantaged backgrounds will also do well for disadvantaged black boys."
Last week, an Office for Standards in Education report, accused many schools of institutional racism. Inspectors said schools failed to monitor the progress of ethnic-minority pupils and that teachers often negatively stereotyped black pupils.
The NFER study analysed pupils in 55 inner London primary schools between the ages of four and seven, from baseline assessment until the end of key stage 1. White girls, black girls and Paki-stani boys from advantaged backgrounds and all Chinese and Indian pupils appeared to do as well or better than expected.
The most able black boys at age four were among those who made least progress. White working-class boys and girls also made disappointing progress. Chinese children were not among the highest performers at age four, but outstripped expectations by seven.
Dr Peter Tymms at the University of Durham said: "If these findings are consistent across lots of schools, then we can't accuse individual schools of racism. These issues go beyond school into society."
But, Maud Blair at the Open University said: "If you tackle race you automatically tackle gender and class. But if you start with class, ethnicity gets overlooked."
Earlier research by the Open University found ethnic-minority pupils were underachieving even in schools with good results.
Ms Blair said: "Just because a school is good for white children it doesn't follow that it is good for black pupils. We found that even among schools that performed well in league tables, getting an average of 50-60 per cent A*-C grades for their white pupils, when we broke that down black boys would perform significantly lower than white working-class boys."
The NFER report also found marked differences between girls. White girls from advantaged backgrounds were the single highest achieving group but working-class white girls performed lower than many ethnic groups. Black girls were consistently high performers, compared with all boys. Pakistani girls were found to be performing significantly lower than Pakistani boys, most notably in maths.
Dr Strand said: "We can't just say girls are doing OK. Which group do we mean?"