ETHNIC imbalance in Luton's schools will continue unless the local education authority can patch up its troubled dealings with the town's headteachers, inspectors said this week.
They urged the Labour-controlled authority to work closely with secondary schools on admissions policies to create a more ethnically-balanced intake.
Four out of 10 Luton pupils are from ethnic minorities, and several of its primaries and secondaries - with few white pupils - are known locally as "Asian" schools.
Luton has a similar ethnic makeup to Bradford, where hostility between different racial groups erupted into violence last year.
And inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education said: "Though there is certainly some racism in the town, the various communities live, for the most part, in reasonable harmony."
They praised the authority for promoting twinning programmes, visits, lessons and other events enabling children to mix with others and gain greater multi-cultural awareness.
But they said there were difficulties in creating a more ethnically-balanced school intake.
Several schools were critical of the council after problems with its behaviour support services, such as its pupil-referral unit which was placed back in special measures this year. Inspectors said: "It is hard to see how education can be a force for community cohesion where there is a perception that the schools face behaviour (problems), without effective support.
"The council must work to mitigate the attitudes that lie behind these criticisms, and it is unlikely to be able to do so successfully against a background of continued service failures.
"At the same time schools could helpfully be less intractable."
Their comments came in the first study by Ofsted and the Audit Commission examining "community cohesion" in an authority, which focuses on how harmony is promoted between ethnic groups.
Luton Council welcomed the report but said that inspectors had not "adequately captured the vastly improved relationships between Luton's secondary schools and the council". It invited Ofsted to carry out the study shortly before an authority-wide reinspection, and now plans to bid for pathfinder status from the Home Office for its work. An Ofsted spokeswoman said that there were no immediate plans for community cohesion reports on other authorities.
* Home Office minister Beverley Hughes yesterday announced that a new group will advise schools and colleges on how they can encourage community cohesion.
"Community Cohesion in Luton" is available at www.ofsted.gov.uk
Profile of apopulation
* The percentage of ethnic-minority pupils in schools in Luton is 41.5 per cent, and is expected to exceed 50 per cent by 2010.
* Around 23 per cent of the town's population of 183,000 is from an ethnic minority.
* Out of 83 Luton schools, 11 have more than 90 per cent ethnic-minority pupils, and six have fewer than 10 per cent.
* Unlike in larger towns, inspectors did not find a "substantial number" ofall-white schools.