The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has seen a drop of almost 10, 000 members, according to figures submitted to the independent national certification office.
Eamonn O'Kane, deputy leader of the NASUWT, believes his union's success has been due to wooing young recruits. The teacher unions have had high profiles in recent years over the national curriculum boycott and the NASUWT has won a reputation for protecting members from disruptive pupils.
He said: "The profession has been feeling beleaguered in the past few years. The number of changes and the ever-present fear of redundancy in some areas have required unions to be the solid rock for teachers to stand upon. I am also encouraged that our policies are attracting young teachers."
The calculation of union figures always causes debate and the figures usually have a health warning attached. The unions also argue that like is not always being compared with like.
The NUT, according to its spokeswomen, has seen a gradual but sure increase every year since 1991. She said: "This shows our policies are appealing to teachers and our strong regional structure is persuading members from other unions and newly-qualified teachers to join the NUT." She said the NUT, unlike the other unions, only recruited in England and Wales and only counted fully-qualified teachers as members.
Gerald Imison, deputy general secretary of the ATL, said: "We had expected a drop this year. Some retired members who were contributing have stopped paying and we have also lost a lot of members through retirement and early retirement. Although we are recruiting younger new members, we have not made up the shortfall.
"The union has been increasing its membership considerably and, although I'm not saying the bubble has burst, such a rate of increase could not have continued. The union is in a very healthy state and we expect to pick up more members." The Professional Association of Teachers has seen its total membership boosted by its merger with the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses but remains the smallest of the teacher unions.
MEMBERSHIP OF UNIONS 1994 1995
National Union of Teachers 189,293 192,009 National Association of Schoolmasters Union of 146,266 157,146 Women Teachers Association of Teachers and Lecturers 140,616 130,339 Professional Association of Teachers 40,036 42,595