A council has been criticised for leaving parents in the dark for years about abusive treatment their children received at the hands of a rogue teacher.

Alison Mackie, who taught pupils with complex learning disabilities at Chatelherault Primary School, in Hamilton, was struck off the teaching register earlier this month.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) banned her from teaching for six months, after she was found to have forced toast into the mouth of one autistic boy, refused to help another who was banging his head off the floor, while also stopping classroom assistants from helping the pupil.

But parents of the boys involved are furious that they were not allowed to know what was going on, to protect the teacher’s confidentiality and because whistle-blowers wanted an investigation delayed until Mrs Mackie, who was pregnant, had had her baby.

Although the school’s then deputy head was alerted in March 2015 to concerns about the way one child ‘boy A’ had been force-fed toast, no action was taken until June when the headteacher contacted the teaching watchdog and alerted police to a possible assault.

Parents of pupils in the additional support needs base where Mrs Mackie worked have claimed the teacher’s needs were prioritised over those of her pupils. Some were not told full details until this year, when the case reached the professional watchdog.

The council claims it did all it could to keep families informed, but the problems were largely down to one rogue teacher, and the school’s former deputy head who failed to pass concerns on was disciplined and has subsequently left the profession. Further delays were caused by the school holidays and allowing the police investigation to run its course.

But between March and June 2015 when police were finally called in, pupil A’s unsuspecting parents had agreed to him having daily one-to-one lessons with Mrs Mackie. The boy’s mother says she and her husband went in three times to speak to the school over this period to discuss their son’s sudden aversion to school and changes in his behaviour - and were still not told colleagues had raised concerns over Mrs Mackie's treatment of their son.

Meanwhile the mother of pupil ‘P’ in the GTC case – whose son Mackie left to bang his head off the floor until he was hysterical and covered in bruises says the publication of the hearing findings last week was the first time she knew in full what had happened to her son.

She says it took this family a year and a half to get to the stage where P was able to go to school willingly again.

Both families say the emphasis appears to have been on the teacher’s wellbeing throughout, rather than that of pupils – in breach of “Getting it Right for Every Child” (Girfec) policies, which state that children’s needs should always be paramount.

Meanwhile the Herald has learned that another child at Chatelherault had fruit forced into his mouth by a different teacher. Investigations were launched into this case, but were dropped after the woman left teaching.

An education insider at South Lanarkshire Council, has claimed Mrs Mackie’s mistreatment of pupils would have been reported earlier, but other staff were “afraid of her reaction” if they intervened.

The claims come as autism and learning disability charities warn that behavioural problems in pupils who are non verbal or on the autistic spectrum are often leading to children being restrained, isolated or mistreated. In fact, parents and charities say such misbehaviour is often an attempt to communicate rather than to be ‘bad’.

South Lanarkshire council officials believe the mistreatment was a one off and is not evidence of a pattern within the council’s schools.

The council says it runs four tailored programmes for autistic children of different ages, delivered in partnership with the National Autistic Society.

It has a dedicated resource in Hamilton for people with autism and their families, and has given 3,000 primary and secondary teachers training in meeting the needs of autistic pupils.

A council spokesman said: “Pupil safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance in South Lanarkshire’s schools.”

“We always act swiftly and appropriately when any allegations of inappropriate activity are brought to our attention, and that is exactly what happened in this case.”

Once the concerns were brought to the attention f the headteacher in June 2015, a formal investigation was launched immediately and disciplinary action was instigated, while the matter was reported to both the police and the General Teaching Council.

“At every stage we were as open with parents as possible, given the restrictions imposed on us by the police investigation and subsequent court case, “ the spokesman said.

“The school continued to meet parents regularly to work together to help their children, and as part of this we have apologised for any incidents where the high standards that we set, and which parents rightly expect, were not delivered by individuals.

He added: “We are pleased that all of the pupils referred to in the GTCS hearing, and those whose cases have been raised by the Herald, remain in our schools, with parents and staff working together to give them the best possible educational experience.”