Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said an over-reliance on league tables risked causing "unseen damage" to the education system.
In a strong attack on the Coalition, he said children were increasingly being drilled to pass tests at the expense of promoting a love of reading, understanding how language worked and putting numeracy to practical use.
The comments – in a speech to the NAHT's annual conference in Brighton – came as the union proposed a wave of industrial action in protest over Government reforms.
Earlier delegates threatened to boycott Sats tests for 600,000 primary school pupils next year unless a Government review of exams delivered comprehensive changes to the assessment system. It would follow a similar boycott in 2010.
Addressing head teachers yesterday, Mr Hobby accused the Government of lacking vision and making high-profile attacks on the teaching profession simply to generate "easy headlines".
"Perhaps the biggest surprise for me - in a time of radical changes - is actually the weakness of central Government in education," he said. "In a system like ours, the one true lever you have for real change is leadership: an inspiring vision that lifts everybody's aspirations.
"If you reject that lever – in favour of the easy headlines generated by the language of failure – then all you have left, sitting in the centre, is data. Data and the threat of punitive accountability.
"So, data and coercion will fail our children and our country."
In recent months, the Coalition had proposed introducing "super league tables", providing parents with more new data covering teachers' pay, school budgets and exam performance in each subject.
Ministers had also introduced a new measure – the English Baccalaureate – to show the number of students getting good GCSE grades in five academic subject areas. Michael Gove had addressed the conference earlier.
"When you ask someone to achieve a number, without worrying about how they achieve that number, then corruption follows," said Mr Hobby. "This is exactly what led to the global financial crisis that they need to cut your pension to pay for.
"I do not want my own children to be reduced to statistical fodder in support of a good headline. The unseen damage is too high.
"To be literate but not to love a good book, because there's no time to read a whole book for pleasure; to be able to pronounce but not to understand; to be well behaved but not to care; to be disciplined but not ambitious; to be a good citizen and not a rebel; to be healthy but not adventurous."
Do you agree with him?
Has education turned into a data-factory rather than opening children's minds to learning?
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