The number of pupils taking A-level maths is set to rise markedly in the next two years, an analysis of early AS results suggests.
The news comes after a month of negative headlines for the subject - reports had warned of a national lack of interest in maths.
Figures suggest entries for the AS exam were up by more than 10 per cent this January. Those who took it would have been Year 12s sitting the papers early or Year 13s taking resits. But experts are confident the numbers reflect a genuine increase in the popularity of maths.
Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), an independent body, surveyed 171 schools and colleges that entered candidates for the January session. It wanted to find out if the rise in numbers reflected an overall increase, or was caused by other factors such as more pupils resitting or more taking modules earlier than the summer.
Two-thirds of the schools reporting an increase in January entries said this reflected a genuine rise in numbers taking A-level. The rest cited other factors, including 27 per cent that said they were allowing January AS sittings for the first time.
One respondent said: "At our sixth form college, this time last year we had 280 applicants for maths and 76 for further maths. This year, we had 400 for maths and 87 for further maths."
Another said: "There seems to be a dramatic shift towards students electing to take the sciences and maths. We are now desperately seeking science and maths teachers."
MEI said this meant take-up overall was likely to rise.
Rob Eastaway, of the Mathematical Association, said he was "delighted", and that he believed the figures showed efforts to convince pupils of the benefits of studying maths might be paying off.
The figures come after the think tank Reform said pupils' reluctance to take the subject post-16 was damaging Britain's economic prospects.
In 2002, numbers taking maths slumped by 19 per cent to 53,940 after the Curriculum 2000 reforms appeared to make the exam harder. For the past five years, the cohort has been growing, boosted in part by the Government's decision in 2004 to correct the Curriculum 2000 problem and make the exam easier.
Last summer, 60,093 pupils took A-level, meaning a 10 per cent rise over the next two years would see overall entry numbers recovering to around 66,000, the number taking it in 2001.
The MEI report said: "The principal outcome of the survey is that there is a genuine increase in the number of students. The consequence of this positive finding should not be underestimated. More students continuing to study mathematics is crucial to many aspects of our national life."