WORK experience for Wensleydale school student William Hague, aged 17, meant building 20 computer stations in nearby primary schools to help them become part of a far more cost-efficient system.

Thanks to this system, the Wensleydale school,, and most of the primary schools which send pupils to it, are ahead of the national average in their computer-to-student ratio and computer skills.

At the Wensleydale school, those skills include learning how to build a computer for much less than the cost of a new one. This is one of the secrets of the school's success because, on a very limited budget, it has been possible to provide more than 100 computers, most of them in three information and technology rooms.

Most of these were built by Mr Wolfgang 'Wolfi' Heinze since he became ICT administrator in 1999. And it has enabled the school to offer an excellent ICT training programme for its pupils. Not only was William able to help Mr Heinze at the primary schools, but A-level student Chris Carlisle will soon be a full-time trainee at the Wensleydale school.

This might just mean that Mr Heinze can stop working 12-hour days and have a little more time with his young family. For 27 years he worked with IBM in his German homeland until he took early retirement.

He and his English wife then moved to Wensleydale where they had enjoyed many holidays. He taught at Spennithorne CE school for a year and introduced the pupils to the internet.

When he joined the staff at the Wensleydale school, he took with him a vision for linking the secondary school with its eight primary "feeder" schools in an efficient, cheap network which would give the dales children a head start with 21st century technology.

This also involved using as much free software as possible, and once the schools' computers are connected by telephone it can all be centrally administered. Those telephone connections, however, are costly and Mr Heinze is hoping local businesses might help.

The internal computer network within three primary schools (two in Leyburn and that at Bainbridge) still have to be fully installed. Mr Heinze has already completed this at the schools in Spennithorne, Middleham, West Burton, Askrigg and Hawes. This means the pupils can later easily move to the Wensleydale school with their own user identities, passwords and files.

The county council has given £10,000 towards this Wensleydale cluster project. Mr Heinze also praised Mr Andy Scheinder, who lives near Skipton, for voluntarily helping with setting up the network in its early stages.

Mr Bob Walker, head of IT, commented about Mr Heinze's time at the school: "We are now way ahead of the game. We and the primary schools have passed government targets for computer skills."

By the end of this year, the Wensleydale school not only hopes to be on-line to all its feeder schools but also have video conferencing links with Richmond School. Mr Ian Dawson at Richmond School and Mr Ian Whitehead at Wensleydale are working on that.

In October, staff from secondary schools throughout the north of the county will attend ICT training days at the Wensleydale school as three of the staff there are now qualified as trainers.

Mr Heinze would like to see more schools able to stretch their limited budgets and so teach their students that there are more choices on the market. He also hopes that he can run a training programme for adults later this year.