Black pupils are closing the performance gap on other ethnic minority groups at GCSE, figures show.
A study of this year's GCSE and national curriculum test results shows the percentage of black Caribbean and African pupils getting five A* to C grades at GCSE has improved at twice the national average, up 4.2 percentage points and 4.6 percentage points respectively to 49.1 per cent and 51 per cent.
The findings, published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, were welcomed by ministers and teachers' leaders last night.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The results show that targeted additional support works. There was nothing inevitable about black Caribbean pupils' achievement being worse than any other group of children."
The figures mean that – in the past four years – the performance of Caribbean children has shown an improvement of nearly 50 per cent, which is again twice the rate of the national average increase.
But the breakdown, which gives details of the performance of all ethnic groups and the relative achievements of children on free school meals and those from more affluent homes, also shows the gap between rich and poor pupils grows as schooling continues.
It is wider at GCSE level, where it is 27.3 percentage points, with only 35.5 per cent of those on free meals getting five top-grade passes, than in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, where the gap in English is 21 percentage points and maths 20 percentage points. In maths tests for seven-year-olds, the gap is only 12 percentage points.
Michael Gove, the Conservative spokesman on children, schools and families, said: "These figures underline our concerns that education is not promoting social mobility. We should be closing the gap between the poorest and the rest in our schools, but it is widening, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds achieving less and dropping out earlier."
David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman, said: "These figures show that the education system is riddled with inequalities between girls and boys and between pupils from deprived backgrounds and the rest. The Government must be disappointed with the failure to narrow the deprivation gap. Ed Balls [the Secretary of State for the department] should now be urgently considering a new funding system to target deprivation." The statistical analysis also reveals that Chinese pupils are doing better than any other ethnic group in most tests and exams, followed by young people of Indian origin or those of mixed white/Asian descent.
Chinese youngsters are showing their prowess as early as in tests for seven-year-olds, with 95 per cent reaching the required level in English despite having it as a second language in many cases; 93 per cent of youngsters of mixed white/ Asian heritage achieved the required standard. Overall, the figure was 90 per cent.
But black Caribbean children still fare worse than most other ethnic groups, with only Gypsies and Irish travellers, whose numbers are statistically insignificant, doing worse than them at GCSE.
Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils also do worse than the national average at all stages, although Bangladeshi pupils have moved closer to it for five top-grade passes at GCSE (58.4 per cent compared to 59.3 per cent). White British children perform either at the national average or just a little above in the different key stages.
A breakdown of the results reveals girls outperforming boys in almost every test and exam and in every ethnic group. But when it comes to five top-grade passes at GCSE, the gender gap narrowed slightly from 10.1 percentage points in 2005 to 9.6 percentage points last year and 9.1 percentage points in 2007.
Ministers have been targeting the performance of boys and are planning to reduce the amount of coursework in GCSEs, which is thought to favour girls with their more methodical approach.