A union chief has launched a stinging attack on Gavin Williamson over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Robin Bevan, the president of the National Education Union (NEU), likened the Education Secretary to the fictional character of Pinocchio as he described him as “wooden-headed”, “limp” and “spineless”.

Mr Bevan, head of Southend High School for Boys, 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.”

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He criticised the Education Secretary 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.”