The disruption caused by constant texting, polyphonic ringing and now built-in cameras has led most schools to ban them during lessons.
But now a study has concluded that mobile phones should soon join pens, books and calculators as essential classroom tools. Teachers should be ordering classes to switch their phones on.
The researchers from Birmingham university and the Nesta Futurelab in Bristol said that the increasing versatility of mobiles means pupils can use them for tasks which would otherwise involve a trip to the computer room. Many handsets can already record video and access the internet, and they are due to become more like handheld computers over the next five years.
The report, published next month, says: "Whether they are welcome right now or not, mobile devices are finding their way into classrooms in children's pockets and we must ensure that educational practice can include these technologies." Mobile phones are already being used in a small number of educational schemes.
But the industry has been wary about schools projects since the Stewart report in 2000 recommended a ban on promoting handsets to children because of fears that they might damage their health.
Other obstacles include concerns that pupils might use them to cheat in exams or be disadvantaged if their families could not afford the latest models.
St Aidan's school in Sunderland, one of the first schools to ban picture phones, said it could not see the benefit of mobiles in lessons. Tony McCourt, headteacher, said: "It would be very difficult to supervise."
But Keri Facer, director of learning research at Futurelab, believes pupils could use their mobiles sensibly. "Pupils can use paper to make airplanes or write love letters," she said. "They learn that it's not OK to do that during lessons."
Literature Review in Mobile Technologies and Learning will be at www.
nestafuturelab.org in January