CAKE and pizza are the new secret weapons in the drive to raise standards for school pupils hit by poverty.

A Scottish council has introduced a range of new initiatives to help primary and secondary schools close the attainment gap between rich and poor.

These include pizza nights for hundreds of families to encourage them to become involved in their child’s education as well as cake and coffee sessions for teachers to plan a smooth transition for pupils between primary and secondary school.

Other projects adopted by schools in Renfrewshire include greater use of data to show evidence of what works, leadership training for teachers and specialised literacy and numeracy support for classroom assistants.

Parents and teachers have worked together to ensure pupils from all socio-economic backgrounds can afford to take part in school activities and nearly 4,000 pupils have benefited from a programme which develops self-control leading to a significant reduction in anti-social behaviour.

New figures show the initiatives are having a significant impact.

The council achieved an 11 percentage point increase in expected levels of literacy and a five percentage point increase in expected levels of numeracy between 2015 and 2018.

Over the same period, the poverty-related attainment gap has reduced by six percentage points in literacy and four percentage points in numeracy.

Now the council is the first in Scotland to be rated “excellent” for its progress in closing the attainment gap by school inspectors.

Renfrewshire is one of nine councils in the Scottish Government’s attainment challenge, with more than a quarter of pupils living in some of Scotland’s most deprived postcodes. As a result, schools benefited from more than £10 million in additional funding.

Steven Quinn, the council’s interim director of children’s services, said every school and nursery had been working on initiatives to reduce inequalities. This included the creation of “transition teachers” who support pupils as they move from primary into secondary.

Mr Quinn said: “Examples of this are the coffee, cake and calculus workshops which provide a friendly environment for staff from primary and secondary to discuss different approaches which help bring about a more seamless transition for pupils.”

Mr Quinn said the council also put a strong focus on building positive relationships with parents.

He added: “The pizza family sessions create a safe, nurturing environment enabling parents and children to learn together. Food is also provided because it means families can relax without having to rush home to cook a meal.”

Gayle Gorman, Education Scotland’s chief inspector, said: "It’s so encouraging to see innovative ideas like pizza learning being applied to help families."

Jim Paterson, Renfrewshire Council's depute leader, said success was down to a collective approach.

He added: "Staff in schools have once again shown their commitment to doing the best for our children by committing the energy and drive to deliver innovative approaches which are changing the opportunities for Renfrewshire children both during their school years and for their choices when they leave school.”

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, added: "These results are extremely encouraging and I look forward to seeing how the local authority builds on this momentum to truly ensure that every child in Renfrewshire is given the best possible start in life, no matter their background."

The different initiatives were delivered and evaluated in partnership with experts from Strathclyde University, while the council’s education team also worked closely with the Robert Owen Centre at Glasgow University.

Professor Sue Ellis, from Strathclyde’s School of Education, said: “The Renfrewshire literacy approach has made a real difference by raising attainment, improving learning and narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap.

"Everyone from academics, headteachers and teachers, local authority staff and classroom assistants, worked on introducing a diverse range of children's literature, as well as learning and teaching activities that engaged children on all levels."