MOST young black Caribbean men say they could have done better at school, and a quarter believed they were unfairly treated because of the colour of their skin.
One in six of the 18 to 30-year-olds interviewed in a recent survey left school with no qualifications - compared with one in 12 of their white counterparts. These findings were contained in the largest ever qualitative study of black Caribbean young men's experiences.
The government-backed report by Rory Fitzgerald, Steven Finch and Andrea Nove of the National Centre for Social Research found 85 per cent of the 264 respondents felt they could have achieved more at school. More than a third blamed peer pressure while around the same number believed they had lacked the motivation to succeed academically.
Nearly half admitted playing truant, often to avoid what they considered to be boring and irrelevant lessons. Truants were half as likely to get a job as classmates who never skipped lessons.
The findings of black underachievement tie in with a new Office for Standards in Education report exposing a growing gap between the results of ethnic-minority and white pupils.
A report for OFSTED revealed that African-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils have failed to keep pace with white pupils' GCSE improvements.
Over the first 10 years of the exam, the proportion of white pupils gaining five or more top grades in England and Wales rose by 18 percentage points.
Over the same period, black and Pakistani pupils' results improved by 11 and 8 points, respectively. In 1997, 28 per cent of black pupils achieved five top grades, compared to 44 per cent of white children.
The study,by David Gillborn of London University's Institute of Education and Heidi Safia Mirza of Middlesex University, showed both black and Pakistani pupils closing the gap in 1995-97.
It also found that Indian pupils' results improved faster than any other ethnic group, meaning that they now achieved better results, on average, than white pupils.
But the research also uncovered wide disparities in local authorities' approaches to race.
A separate, anonymous, survey of 118 authorities' 1999 applications for funding to support ethnic-minority improvement found nearly a third had not provided a racial breakdown of their pupils' achievements in Year 11.
One had included in its bid targets for ethnic-minority improvement which would have seen black pupils fall further behind white counterparts at GCSE.
And in one large urban authority, black pupils' relative performance declined as they progressed through school. Baseline assessment showed black pupils arrived at primary school performing on average 20 per cent better in tests than the average. By the time they sat GCSEs, their performance was 21 points below the average.
However, each ethnic group has achieved the best GCSE results in at least one of the authorities surveyed.
Dr Gillborn said: "None of the Government agencies charged with raising standards have dealt with racial equality as a central part of their agenda, but almost as an afterthought.
"But the evidence suggests that if you do nothing about it - if you adopt policies which are essentially colour-blind - the gap in performance will actually grow."
Research brief RR186 from www.dfee.gov.ukresearch