"Education in Britain is institutionally racist and racism is an inherent part of the education system," said Sir Herman Ouseley, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Next week sees the publication of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report, expected to call on ministers to examine the issue of institutional racism in every aspect of British public life.
Sir Herman continued: "Why is it that after almost 40 years of analysing and campaigning about this, so many black children are still under-achieving; that there are so few ethnic-minority teachers; that bodies like the Office for Standards in Education are so lacking in ethnic-minority input?" Last year, Sir Herman provoked furious debate when he accused the Teacher Training Agency of "sticking two fingers up" at anti-racism.
The CRE defines institutional racism as the "policies, practices and processes" of an organisation. Sir Herman said: "Many organisations have good intentions and excellent paper policies, and many individuals try very hard, but the end result is still the same."
This week also saw a high-profile black schools chief accuse her own borough of institutional racism. Althea Efunshile, director of education and community services in Lewisham, south London, said: "The fact that there is a black leader does not mean the organisation does not have institutional racism.".
Speaking to black parents in Hackney, east London, Ms Efunshile said that under-achievement and high exclusion rates for ethnic-minority children were evidence that racism was as endemic in education as it was in other public institutions.
Figures show black and white children start school with similar levels of attainment, but by secondary school a dramatic gap has opened. Black young men are more than three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their white peers - in some areas the figure is as high as 15 per cent. Two-thirds of excluded pupils never return to mainstream education.
Lewisham's new education development plan will address black under-achievement as a specific priority - Ms Efunshile said others should do the same.
The authority already tracks attainment of different groups, and gives that information to school governors to investigate why some groups are doing less well than others.