A teacher who forced toast into the mouth of an autistic boy and held another on the floor while attempting to brush his teeth has been struck off for six months.

Alison Mackie, who taught at Chatelherault Primary School in South Lanarkshire, was pregnant at the time and experiencing personal problems, but the General Teaching Council said that even taking this into account, her actions were "extremely serious" and said removing her from the teaching register was its only option.

Mackie, who is no longer at the school and is currently working in a specialist community support team, had shown no remorse or regret for her behaviour, the professional watchdog said.

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The incidents, which took place in 2015, were witnessed by shocked fellow teachers and teaching assistants, who corroborated each other's accounts.

Mackie was also found guilty of failing to comfort a pupil who was distressed, allowing him to bang his head on the floor or beat himself with his fists, and she instructed support staff to do the same.

The panel said: "The teacher was in the habit of using phrases like 'tough love' and 'the world doesn't revolve around him', when speaking about pupils," and said the allegations involved harm to very vulnerable pupils whilst in the teacher's care, adding: "The misconduct occurred over a number of months and amounted to a pattern of misbehaviour."

Breaches of the professional code of conduct, which the panel found proven on the balance of probabilities, were made more serious because the children involved were non-verbal and unable to say what was happening to them, the panel's report adds. "This involved a number of very vulnerable pupils with little or no capacity to communicate," it says. The GTC concluded that Mackie's actions caused pupils to be distressed to the extent that some self-harmed.

Although she had a previously unblemished 13 year record, and the misconduct had been for an isolated period of time, it was "extremely serious". Meanwhile appearing before the panel Mackie had shown "little insight or remorse" regarding her actions and behaviour, the panel said.

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The allegations involve four pupils with additional support needs at the primary school, which hosts both mainstream education and a special unit. All were on the autistic spectrum, in P1-P3, and had a range of complex needs. The pupils involved are only identified in the report by their initials.

Parents of the children involved are furious that South Lanarkshire council did not even inform them of the incidents at first and full details have only just emerged four years later.

The mother of a child identified as 'pupil A' by the GTC said she was appalled when she discovered the teacher had force-fed her son toast by tipping back his head and pushing it into his mouth, before holding her hand over his mouth

"After the summer when he went back to school he had a panic attack. I thought it was because he'd had a lovely six weeks with me - in fact he was absolutely terrified," she said.

Pupil A, now 12, was so distressed he would hide his school uniform and on a trip to Marks and Spencer attempted to do the same in their clothing section, his mother said. "I am angry and upset. My son was exhibiting these behaviours and I didn't know what was going wrong. I couldn't support my child."

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Another child, 'pupil P' in the report, was prone to self harm by banging his head off the floor or punching himself in the face when distressed. Mackie would leave him for several minutes which caused P to become more upset, and he was "frequently" left with bruises and markings to his head.

The teacher also told colleagues to do the same. Classroom assistants would cradle him when this happened or put a cushion on the ground under his head, but Mackie instructed them not to.

A further charge - that she deliberately fast-forwarded a DVD in the presence of P, knowing this caused him distress, was found not proven due to inconsistencies in the evidence. However a GTC fitness to teach panel said it was satisfied that the witnesses were credible and not acting out of malice.

P's mother said the findings were "breathtaking".

"I'm absolutely livid. I did not know the full details of what happened to my son until this hearing, or that there were three other families affected," she said. "There is a special place in hell for people who want to torment children with special needs.

"Not only did she ignore his distress and leave him to hit his head off the floor, she went stage further and told other people not to help him either. "

"She wasn't equipped to deal with vulnerable children with additional needs. My son is still on medication for anxiety".

Charges were upheld relating to two other pupils, pupil R and pupil D, also part of the same class. On one occasion R was rolling on the floor refusing to brush his teeth and Mackie bent over him and pressed on his chest while asking a colleague to hold him down so she could brush his teeth. The colleague refused, and gave a "graphic account" to the GTC panel of the distress this caused the boy.

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Pupil D had a routine which meant he ate his dessert before his savoury food at lunch, although he would always finish it. Mackie objected to this and forced him to eat the savoury food first causing him to become upset and distressed. "There was no reason for pupil D to have to eat his food in any particular order," the panel said.

South Lanarkshire Council said it was unable to discuss individual employees, but a spokesman added: “This was a sensitive case, at the centre of which was a child with complex additional support needs who deserved better care. The council has acknowledged this and taken responsibility for the actions of this individual.

“However, it is worth emphasising that as soon as concerns were first raised the council took appropriate action, including referring the matter to the General Teaching Council for Scotland. We will always take allegations like these seriously and employ a measured approach which ensures staff fulfil their responsibilities as a service provider and employer, while balancing the rights of any individuals involved.

“We recognise that this has been a difficult period for the family and senior officers have apologised to the family in face-to-face meetings.”

A spokeswoman for the GTC declined to comment.