Five years' worth of ethnic monitoring by local education authorities is to be scrapped after producing no discernible government action, it has emerged.
A new, smaller operation will be launched shortly, preceded by only a four-week consultation period - over the Easter holidays - and designed to collect less information than before.
LEAs have been angered that a major plank in the Government's drive for equal opportunities, launched in 1989 by the then education minister Angela Rumbold, appears to have had no political backing, despite the time and money required to produce the figures.
The programme to record the origins of all five and 11-year-olds was launched as a result of the 1985 Swann Report which pointed to monitoring as the key priority for ensuring equal opportunities in schools.
The LEAs have attacked the contrastingly brief period of consultation set aside for the new arrangements. These will reduce the number of questions asked of schools in the annual "Form 7" information returns in January, relying instead on figures from Office for Standards in Education reports. The Government's commitment to ethnic monitoring, said the authorities, is questionable.
"If these reports are true," said Alan Parker, education officer with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, "this is a deeply disappointing climbdown from a policy which we have always supported but which has never been enthusiastically embraced by the Department for Education. To do this with only cursory consultation would be a betrayal of the Government's previously expressed concern for equal opportunities. On the back of reducing the bureaucratic burden on schools, they have chosen to penalise ethnic minorities. It appears they are more interested in collecting limited data for their own internal use rather than data which might be used against them."
Phil Barnett, education principal at the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "We're very concerned that five years of effort should count for nothing. We're also dismayed at the decision taken previously to discontinue the ethnic monitoring of teachers.
"We regard ethnic monitoring as a basic quality-assurance mechanism. If the past five years of, albeit limited, ethnic monitoring is to be scrapped, then we're even worse off than the point at which we started."
Junior education minister Robin Squire promised a new initiative at a recent CRETES conference when pressed for information about the results of the five-year monitoring scheme. Warwickshire's chief education officer, Margaret Maden, complained that the figures had been costly to collect and had disappeared into "a black hole".
Tony Webster, director of education in Tameside and president of the Society of Education Officers, expressed concern that only a quarter of the figures provided by OFSTED would be up-to-date.
David Whitbread, under secretary at the Association of County Councils, said: "If this were true, it would be a great shame to lose the benefit of comparable figures over the years."
The DFE this week made no comment.