The Government's policy to cut school exclusions will only lead to an increase in the alarmingly high proportion of African and African-Caribbean children who face expulsion, according to research from London University.
Afro-Caribbean pupils are already up to six times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than white counterparts and that difference is set to grow, David Gillborn, a reader in the sociology of education, told a conference in east London last week.
"The omens for black pupils are not good. Historically they have not shared equally in the results of education reforms," he said. "Unless there is deliberate targeted action on black exclusions, the representation of black pupils relative to whites will worsen."
Mr Gillborn said the aim of the Government's social exclusion unit to cut all exclusions by one third by 2002 was attainable. However, without setting race-specific targets, racist practices in schools - often by teachers who fail to realise they are quicker to discipline blacks than whites - would persist.
"Are African-Caribbeans six times more unmanageable than whites, or is there something wrong with the system? To me, the first option is just not credible, " Mr Gillborn said.
The Government has been asked to act on the high proportion of ethnic-minority pupil exclusions - 16 per cent of exclusions are from this group, and half of them are African-Caribbeans. A key plank of the unit's plans to revive deprived communities is to expand education and reverse a trend that has seen school exclusions quadruple in the 1990s.
Zena Peatfield of the social exclusion unit denied Government policy was "colourblind". Among other measures, she said, there would be special inspections by the Office of Standards in Education of schools with high rates of exclusion.
"If these measures don't make a difference we are committed to taking action which will put these problems right," she concluded.
The conference, which focussed on efforts in the east London borough to reduce exclusions from its primary schools, came as the unit stepped up its campaign.
Elizabeth Reid, Hackney's director of education, said the borough had had relative success in bucking a national trend, with an actual decrease in expulsions from its primary schools over the past four school years.
Last year, Hackney launched a two-year project with the Royal Philanthropic Society, funded by private donations, to tackle a worrying number of expulsions in years one to three.
The "Include" project employs an educational therapist to intervene at the request of any of the borough's 60 primary schools if a pupil gets out of hand. Coordinator Sue Davies said: "If exclusion and disaffection set in at the earliest years, the problems are liable to carry on through primary, into secondary and ultimately lead to social difficulties and criminality."
Nationally, only 15 per cent of permanently excluded pupils are successfully reintegrated into mainstream education, Ms Reid said some schools excluded far more pupils than others, suggesting that it was possible to prevent expulsions, which ultimately also exacted heavy financial costs on education and other local authorities.