Gavin Williamson was branded “spineless” as a union chief launched a scathing attack on the Education Secretary’s handling of the pandemic.

Mr Williamson was compared to fictional puppet Pinocchio, described as “wooden-headed”, “limp” and “spineless” by the president of the National Education Union (NEU).

Robin Bevan, head of Southend High School for Boys in Essex, accused the minister of repeating a “lie” that exams are the best form of assessment.

In a speech to the NEU’s virtual annual conference, the president of the UK’s largest teaching union called for “a rethink” of assessment.

Addressing Mr Williamson’s political decisions over the past year, Mr Bevan said: “Throughout recent months we have seen that the Secretary of State is indeed wooden-headed, is indeed a puppet, is limp and spineless.”

Mr Bevan criticised the Gavin Williamson for threatening to take legal action against Greenwich council if it failed to keep its schools open to all pupils until the end of term in December, despite a rise in Covid cases across the capital.

The NEU chief also condemned Mr Williamson for telling parents in January that they could report schools to Ofsted if they were unhappy with their child’s remote learning provision just days after schools were told they had to close.

Mr Bevan added: “Pinocchio of course also has that characteristic of the nose that grows with every lie that is told and there is one lie that really must be challenged, repeated over and over again by our Secretary of State.

“The lie that exams are the best and fairest way for young people to show what they know and can do.

“And here, I’m not talking about his incessant and unrelenting desire to see exams take place this year.

“I’m talking generally.

“It takes a particular level of ignorance to make that statement.”

Teachers will be tasked with grading GCSE and A-Level pupils this summer as exams were cancelled for a second year as a result of the pandemic sparking calls for GCSE’s to be reformed post-Covid.

Despite calls for reform, Mr Williamson said last month that exams will be here “for an awful lot longer”.

Speaking at the NEU’s conference, Mr Bevan argued that not everything is best assessed in an examination under timed conditions.

He said: “High-quality assessment doesn’t depend on performance on the day, doesn’t depend on the marker you’re assigned to, doesn’t depend on the selection of questions that just happen to appear on the paper.

“High quality assessment would have the same outcome with the same competence of the individual being assessed.

“It’s time to re-think assessment.

“It’s time to put that lie in the bin.

“Exams are not the best, exclusive, fairest way for young people to show what they know and can do.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Throughout the pandemic, the Education Secretary has put the safety of staff and pupils at the core of all decision making and has ensured schools and colleges have been fully open wherever possible, based on the best available scientific and medical advice.

“The course of the pandemic has led to swift decisions being taken to respond to changes in our understanding of the virus and action has had to be taken in the national interest.”

She added: “We have made clear that exams are the fairest way to assess pupils, and our reformed GCSEs rigorously assess their knowledge while preparing young people leaving school or college for the workplace or higher study.”