Labour education reforms under Tony Blair may have helped to fuel the soaring numbers of sixth-formers now taking maths at A-level, it has been suggested.
Measures introduced by the party after it won power in 1997 may be having an impact years later, with youngsters who gained confidence and a good grounding in the subject early in their school career now continuing it on past GCSE.
Figures show that last year, there were 88,826 entries for maths, making it the most popular A-level among students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the first time.
The numbers taking the subject have almost doubled in 10 years, up from 52,897 entries in June 2005. And this trend is set to continue when exam results are published in a few days time, with provisional data published by exams regulator Ofqual in May showing there had been 92,300 entries for maths across the country, excluding Scotland, by April 20.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University said that the numbers taking A-level maths have been increasing year on year for around a decade.
He suggested that there could be a number of reasons for the hike, including Labour reforms.
In the late 1990s the government began introducing literacy and numeracy strategies in England’s primary schools, which saw youngsters taught the core subjects on a daily basis. The system was scrapped by then Schools Secretary Ed Balls in 2009.
“Last year maths was the most frequently taken,” Prof Smithers said. “It’s not clear whether this is because students see the advantages of doing maths - like the effect it has on lifetime earnings, or whether because it has become more accessible, more people feel confident taking it.
He added that numeracy in primary schools over the last decade or more would also be having an effect.
“They would be getting a much better grounding in primary schools and that would put them in a position to have the confidence and understanding to do an A-level in maths.”
Peter Kent, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, and headteacher of Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, said: “This may well relate to the rise in university tuition fees to £3,000 a year in 2004, followed by £9,000 a year in 2012, and the need for students to focus on subjects that lead to good careers, particularly following the economic downturn in 2008.
“Maths is seen as a strong option because it leads to a number of high-status and high-earning jobs.
“The introduction of the numeracy hour in the late 1990s may well have helped too, as has strong teaching of the subject at both primary and secondary level.
“The increasing uptake of maths A-level is great news. It is essential to the economic health of the country to have a good supply of people with these skills.”