SIXTH-formers will be able to study practical maths through a one-year qualification designed to encourage more arts students to choose the subject.
"Use of mathematics", an AS-level qualification designed to bridge the gap between GCSE and A-level, will be available from September next year. It will be more practically orientated and include a greater proportion of information technology than the maths AS and A-level.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said there were early indications that arts students studying more than the traditional three subjects under the first year of the Government's A-level reforms had avoided maths.
He said: "Students may see the use of AS mathematics as a more accessible and less academic way of continuing with the subject."
Ministers have agreed the development of the new qualification due to growing concern about students' maths skills.
Earlier this year, two separate studies of undergraduates' ability found standards had fallen sharpl since 1990.
An Institute of Management survey published last week found that two-thirds of businesses were dubious about graduates' numeracy skills.
However, a new study out this week by London University's Institute of Education challenges the special status of maths in the curriculum and questions whether it should be compulsory after 14.
John White, co-editor of Why Learn Maths?, a collection of essays by maths experts, said: "The maths we need for everyday life and work is mostly learnt by the end of primary school. Why force young people with little interest or ability in maths to go on learning it throughout their school careers?"
The view was condemned by Mr Dunford, who claimed that withdrawing compulsory maths would undermine students' ability to think logically and rob them of job opportunities in later life.
Steve Abbott, president of the Maths Association, said: "If we go down that road we might as well stop school at 11 because we learn most of the basics in primary school."