Last year only an estimated 5,935 pupils were entered for GCSE Italian, compared with 357,000 for French, 132,000 for German, and 42,000 for Spanish.
Yet nationally there are more than 1,140 teachers in schools who are qualified to degree level and trained to teach Italian but do not teach the subject, The TESCILT survey projects.
If every teacher whose Italian is unused took just 10 pupils each to GCSE, the number of entries for the subject would virtually treble.
At John Ogilvie High School, in Hamilton, Strathclyde, there are two language teachers whose Italian skills have been put on hold. The school once offered Italian as an option but interest faded. With the local primary project concentrating on Spanish, this has become the dominant language as pupils have to follow the first foreign language they learned at primary school.
That may be no bad thing because there are also a projected 1,200 teachers who are qualified in Spanish but are not teaching it.
Anna Bartrum, a senior lecturer responsible for the training of student Italian teachers at the University College of St Martin, Lancaster, says a major obstacle schools face in introducing the language is the entrenched views of senior school managers and parents.
As a department head at St Paul's Catholic School in Milton Keynes, she brought in Italian as a joint first foreign language. "If your management isn't supportive, it worries about the cost and the problem of finding teachers, " she says. "You have to fight your corner."