The finding is revealed in research by Steve Strand, from Warwick university, who has been looking at the effect pupil mobility has had on schools in the Lambeth, south London.
He found little evidence that moving schools affected primary performance when other factors such as previous performance, background, special needs, fluency in English and poverty were taken into account.
Dr Strand said he was surprised that when the same exercise was carried out in the secondary sector, pupil mobility made a difference.
"We need to manage expectations about what pupils who are mobile can achieve," he said. "The actual attainment of these kids is probably lower than we might otherwise reasonably expect."
The implication was that more money should be spent on the problem and that schools needed to think about how they helped such pupils to settle in, employing solutions such as buddy systems.
Pupil mobility, attainment and progress in secondary school by Steve Strand Institute of Education, University of Warwick and Feyisa Demie, Lambeth Education