Some primary teachers and secondary teachers could potentially find themselves teaching in converted hospital buildings as free schools seek new permanent premises.
In a letter last month to NHS chief executives, finance directors and estates managers, health minister Dan Poulter asked that they inform the Department for Education (DfE) of vacant buildings available for at least six months that could be used by free schools on a temporary or permanent basis.
While all government departments are required to inform the DfE of potential sites for free schools, Dr Poulter instructed that NHS trusts should supply details of properties even if they feel that they do not quite fit the criteria, the Financial Times reported.
Asked about this request, the DfE explained: "If proposers can secure an available government site, they will then be able to concentrate on creating their new school to raise standards and provide more good school places for parents."
A range of healthcare facilities, including clinics, health centres, day centres, hospitals, ambulance stations and care facilities have all been considered for conversions into school.
The expense involved in doing so is however controversial, with more than £25 million spent on acquiring and rendering a hospital site in southwest London suitable for accommodating the Bolingbroke Academy, which opened in September 2012, for example.
Free schools are expected to play a significant role in addressing the estimated shortfall of 256,000 new school places required by September 2014, with those opening in September expected to eventually accommodate 50,000 pupils in total.
Yet according to New Schools Network director Natalie Evans, the "biggest challenge" has been finding sites for these new institutions, often delaying the opening of schools for up to a year and causing confusion among parents.
The National Union of Teachers has meanwhile this week published research findings indicating that the free schools programme is creating a surfeit of secondary school places in some areas where there is in fact likely to be a deficit in primary school places.
Posted by Alan Douglas