New evidence to be released by Ofsted, the school inspection body, will add to fears that black boys in particular are becoming locked into a cycle of failure.
Poor performances by Afro-Caribbean boys have attracted attention before. Although Indians and Pakistanis, who have traditionally done well in exams, are doing better than ever, in many areas of the country the gap is widening between them and their Afro-Caribbean counterparts, the report says.
The findings mirror a national picture in which the highest-scoring pupils are doing better than ever at school, while those at the bottom are increasingly likely to become disaffected.
One reason black pupils are more likely to leave school without any qualifications is that they are four times more likely than other groups to be excluded from school. The total number of exclusions has risen rapidly, from 2,900 in 1990 to 10,000 last year. There has also been concern that teachers often underestimate their abilities, and that they may even find black teenagers more intimidating than their white classmates.
As a result, some commentators say, they give them less encouragement. While all groups of pupils improved their GCSE scores over the eight years since the exam was introduced, Afro-Caribbean pupils improved far less than some other groups.
The gap between ethnic groups at GCSE was first highlighted by a report that compared the 1988 scores of London teenagers. There was a difference between Afro-Caribbean and white pupils equivalent to an extra GCSE at grade F, but the gap is believed to have widened.
A recent study carried out in Birmingham showed that just one in 12 Afro-Caribbean boys gained A-C grades at maths GCSE, compared with almost one in three whites.
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