The Government is creating an apartheid system in education by failing to tackle racial inequality or reflect cultural diversity, according to Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Sir Herman accused ministers and policy-makers of failing to be race-sensitive in their strategies to boost school standards. His remarks came as he opened the North of England Education Conference in Bradford this week. "I believe there still exists a strange veil of silence over the discussion of race. It is felt to be uncomfortable, difficult, and uncouth to mention it," he said.
He urged ministers to address the exclusion rate of African-Caribbean boys - six times that of their white counterparts - and the high drop-out rate in some areas of white working-class boys. He said rising standards did not necessarily mean a more equal society - focused action was needed. Ministers were accused of a dangerous use of the trickle-down approach to equality. He said: "While examination pass rates rose continually for the population at large some specific communities were unable to share in that improvement."
He said the school organisation set out in legislative proposals currently before the House of Commons - which seek to establish foundation, community and voluntary schools - will worsen the position. He predicted the creation of "sink schools" with a high proportion of ethnic minority pupils.
He also attacked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. "They seem to want to provide a solid and static ideological core with which to hold together a diverse population - attempting to unite diverse traditions, values and cultures by binding them into a common set of values and narratives that happen to reflect the values and culture of the white English middle class."
Lack of role models is seen to contribute to black underachievement. Sir Herman accused teacher-training colleges of racism for not giving places to suitably-qualified black applicants.
"In 1995, 39 per cent of the black Caribbean group of students were offered places at three of the 85 institutions that received applications from this group. Thirty-nine (institutions) accepted none of the applicants of this group who applied to them."
Monitoring of ethnic groups at all levels of the education service must be reinstated by the Government, he added.