The largest teaching union is losing ground to its nearest rival in the battle for new members, official figures show.
Both the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have justified their opposing stances on the school workforce agreement by pointing to rising membership figures.
But, although new statistics from the Certification Office for Trade Unions and Employers' Associations for the year following the signing of the deal in January 2003 confirm their claims, they also show the pro-agreement NASUWT putting on more new members than the NUT.
However, signing the deal has not been such good news for the third main classroom union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, whose membership continues to fall, although the slump is showing signs of bottoming out.
Membership for the two headteachers' organisations and the Professional Association of Teachers remained almost the same.
The total number of people registered with the six England-based teacher associations rose to 916,966 by the end of 2003. That represents a 3.62 per cent rise and the biggest total since the 1970s, when the statistics from the certification office were first released in their current form.
As the overall totals include retired and student members, a better measure is the number of those who pay fees. On this basis, the NUT still retains its position as the biggest union by some distance. But the NASUWT is catching up, putting on 11,707 members, or 5.5 per cent, compared with the NUT's 7,860, a rise of 3 per cent.
Chris Keates, NASUWT acting general secretary, said: "Teachers want to belong to a union that is delivering benefits to its members, not one that indulges in empty rhetoric that makes no difference to what is going on in classrooms on a day to day basis." But Arthur Jarman, NUT assistant secretary for membership, said the figures do not compare like with like.
The NASUWT recruits in Scotland and Northern Ireland and in further education, whereas all NUT members are either qualified teachers or are on a recognised route working towards a qualification in England and Wales, he said.
The ATL's fee-paying membership dropped by 2.5 per cent in 2003, an improvement on the previous year's alarming 7.8 per cent drop.
Mary Bousted, who became general secretary halfway through 2003, said recruitment was a key priority and the situation was being turned round.
Falling membership or not, Ms Bousted still received the biggest overall financial package of the four classroom general secretaries.
David Hart, NAHT general secretary, is the highest salaried teachers'
leader for a second year running, with pound;101,660. But his Secondary Heads Association counterpart, John Dunford, made up some ground with an inflation-busting 8.2 per cent pay rise.