Plans to extend an early retirement scheme for veteran primary teachers to all schools will be considered by the Legislative Council on Monday. The $700 million scheme launched in February aims to solve the problem of oversupply of teachers in the primary school sector, which faces a declining birth rate, and ensure that newly qualified teachers are able to find a job. It provides primary teachers who retire early with an ex-gratia payment equal to one month's salary for every two years' of service up to a maximum of 12 months. To qualify, teachers must be under 55, have served for more than 10 years in government, aided or direct subsidy scheme primary schools and be working at a school with falling rolls. The normal retirement age is 60. Education chiefs now want to extend the scheme to all schools and to teachers aged between 55 and 58 - with a reduced ex-gratia payment for those aged 56 to 58 - following calls from principals that it should be made more flexible. For 56-year-olds, the payment would be three quarters of a month's salary for every two years of service, for 57-year-olds it would be half a month's salary and for 58-year-olds it would be a quarter of a month's salary. Teachers aged 55 would receive the full ex-gratia payment, while those aged 59 would not be entitled to join the scheme. The move comes after 508 teachers joined the scheme in the last academic year, enabling schools to employ teachers who were unemployed or newly qualified. Of these, 324 were aged 50 to 54, while 103 were aged 45 to 49. Ex-gratia payments made under the scheme added up to $174 million and averaged $342,300 per teacher taking part. Teachers who join the scheme are barred from ever again working in publicly-funded schools. Officials have said extension of the scheme would involve no additional cost and, taking into account the discount, would provide for early retirement of 1,700 teachers by 2006 to 2007, as planned. Fung Ka-ching, former vice-president of the Subsidised Primary Schools Council and principal of the SKH Chai Wan St Michael's Primary School, welcomes the move. He said many principals had always wanted the scheme to be extended so more teachers could benefit. 'The problem of surplus teachers can be solved as long as there are vacancies in schools, not necessarily in those with falling enrollment.' He is not worried about a depletion of well-experienced staff. 'Those who can cope with the education reform will stay,' he said.