The research, published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is based on investigations and analysis at 91 secondary schools in Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester.
There is no national policy for mobile phone use in schools, meaning a plethora of different approaches exist.
This fact has enabled researchers Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy to compare the gains in test scores across and within schools before and after mobile phone bans were introduced.
Of the 91 schools, the first mobile phone bans were introduced in 2002. By 2007 almost half of the schools had bans in place, with 90 of the schools having introduced bans by 2012.
While the researchers had no way of knowing how many pupils in each school owned a mobile phone, official statistics during this period show that 90 per cent of teenagers in England had a device.
By analysing pre and post-ban data from the schools, the researchers found that after mobile phones were banned, the examination results of students aged 16 improved by 6.41 per cent.
However, within this improvement, examination results for students in the lowest quartile of prior achievement improved by 14.23 per cent. Students in the highest quartile of prior achievement saw no effect either way.
The paper states: “Our results indicate that there are no significant gains in student performance if a ban is not widely complied with. Furthermore, this effect is driven by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils.
“We find that mobile phone bans have very different effects on different types of students. Banning mobile phones improves outcomes for the low-achieving students the most and has no significant impact on high-achievers. The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high-achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of whether phones are present.”
It suggests that a mobile ban might be a “low-cost” way to reduce the inequality gap in schools, adding: “Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools.”
The paper, Ill Communication: Technology, distraction and student performance, can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1bZE3uL