White young offenders are considerably less likely to engage in education while serving custodial sentences than their ethnic minority peers, official statistics show.
Just 69 per cent of white 15- to 18-year-old young men in prison are being educated, compared with 81 per cent who are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. And among Muslims, the figure is 83 per cent.
The figures, from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board, also found significant regional variations in the take-up of education by young offenders.
Overall, about three-quarters of young male and 86 per cent of young female prisoners reported that they were in education. Less than a quarter of both groups said they were taking part in vocational or skills training.
The marked gap in educational engagement between white and non-white young men mirrors concerns about the wider performance of white working-class boys.
The vast majority of young offenders had experienced serious problems while at school, with high levels of truancy and exclusions.
Overall, 90 per cent said they had been excluded from school and 73 per cent had played truant. The figures fell to 81 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively, for young Muslim men in custody.
More Muslim prisoners also said that they planned to attend school or college on their release than white young men - 74 per cent compared with 63 per cent.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "The fact that white boys in prison do not take part in education as much as their BME (black and minority ethnic) counterparts does not surprise me. Poor white British boys at school in the community are the worst performing of almost all main groups.
"White boys don't often see education as the way out of the poverty they have come from and there is a culture of anti-education among poor boys, which leaves many young people vulnerable to a lifetime of crime."
Ms Crook said that she was worried at the high numbers of "badly educated" children who were sent to prison.
"With reoffending rates as high as 75 per cent and the link between bad education and crime so concrete, it is time we began to see the benefits of providing intensive support to children in the community," she said.
Geoff Dobson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), said: "We need a better understanding of the reasons for these differences to ensure that all young people in custody have equal access to appropriate employment, training and education."
The report also shows the disrupted education suffered by most prisoners - 40 per cent of young men said they were 14 or younger when they were last at school. Less than seven in 10 young men and eight in 10 young women said the education they were receiving while in custody was useful to them.
Penelope Gibbs, director of Out of Trouble, the PRT campaign to reduce the number of young people in custody, said: "More than half the young people felt they had done nothing in custody that would make them less likely to offend in the future and nearly a third had been in custody more than once, which suggests that previous spells of imprisonment had not rehabilitated them."
REPORT AT A GLANCE
1,162 - Number of 15-18 year-olds interviewed for report
1,742 - Number of inmates aged 15-18, 200910 (2,126 in 20089)
90% - Proportion of young men who said they had been excluded from school
40% - Young men who said they were under 14 when they last attended school
73% - Young male inmates in education
23% - Proportion who took part in vocational or skills training while in prison.