Scotland’s Health Secretary was left “disturbed” when a nursery told his wife there was no space for their daughter – just 24 hours before a non-ethnic applicant was told they could attend, it has been reported.
Humza Yousaf lodged a complaint with the Care Inspectorate calling for it to establish whether the Little Scholars Nursery in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, had discriminated against applicants with an ethnic name after his two-year-old was refused.
During a probe by his wife Nadia El-Nakla, the nursery said it had no space available for three applicants who had ethnic, Muslim-sounding names, including the couple’s daughter Amal, the Daily Record reports.
But, responding to fake inquiries from three mothers with non-ethnic names, the Dundee nursery said spaces were available.
The nursery denies the allegations, despite email records of the contrasting responses to the families sent by the nursery’s manager, and seen by the news outlet.
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Mr Yousaf, who sent the dossier of emails to the watchdog as evidence, said: “Nadia and I really want an explanation why there are such contrasting responses to the emails, sent from ethnic and white Scottish-sounding names.
“Yet despite being given plenty of opportunity to clarify their position, the nursery has refused to explain the differing email responses.
“I find that disturbing and consequently have turned to the Care Inspectorate to get answers.”
Nadia first applied for a place for Amal in September 2020 and again in May. She said the responses were so “similarly abrupt” she felt compelled to explore further.
She said: “I had called the previous year and spoke to someone who told me that unless I fill out a very detailed registration form, they couldn’t even tell me availability.
“I didn’t want to give over so much personal information so early into an inquiry.
“This time I felt dismissed again, although I did fill in the registration form. To me, it didn’t make business sense for a nursery to dismiss me and not even offer a waiting list without being pressed.
“I just felt in my gut that there was something not right about it. So I decided to inquire using non-ethnic names to see what that elicited.”
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Nadia, who works for Dundee East MSP Shona Robison, inquired on May 10 about a space for Amal for two afternoons a week from August.
She was told the next day that “at present I have no available spaces in the nursery”.
On May 11, when Nadia asked if she could be placed on a waiting list, a reply said she must fill in a registration form but “there is no guarantee of a space becoming available”.
Three hours later, at Nadia’s request, her friend Julie Kelly emailed inquiring about a space for her son, who was also two. She was asked to fill in a registration form so “we will be able to check availability for you”.
Julie asked for availability without filling in the form – an option which had been denied to Nadia when she had asked for it last year.
On May 12, Julie was told via email that Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were available from July, as was a nursery tour.
This was despite Nadia being told there was no availability “at present” less than 24 hours earlier.
Nadia said: “She could have come back to me and given me the chance of space available from July but there was no discussion of options and she told me there was nothing at present.
“If there was nothing at present, why was Julie told there was?”
When Julie didn’t respond, she was proactively prompted on May 17 to say if the spaces weren’t wanted – “due to high demand” they would “go back on offer” later that week to other parents. Julie declined the spaces on May 18.
Meanwhile, at Nadia’s behest, her relative Sara Ahmad applied on May 12 about availability. A registration form was forwarded on May 14, they claim.
Like Julie, she had a two-year-old child. She was also flexible on days and starting times but was told on May 20 there was no availability “at the present time or for the foreseeable future”.
At this point, the nursery had already held Sara’s application form for six days but did not offer her the spaces which had been freed up on May 17 by Julie, which were to “go back on offer”.
Nadia said: “We would like to know the explanation for that.”
On May 20, the day Sara was refused, Nadia sent a fake email under the name Suzy Sheppard and asked for two half-days for a two-year-old.
The next day, Sheppard was to fill in a form and she would check availability. After returning from annual leave on June 15, she confirmed she had a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday available for a two-year-old.
After being contacted in July by Nadia, the Record reportedly made its own inquiries using false names. Under Aqsa Akhtar the paper asked on July 7 for any afternoons free for a three-year-old daughter Amira.
Five days later after prompting, on July 12, Mill replied there was “no availability for a three-year-old” and in contrast to the non-ethnic cases there was no offer of a registration form, a tour of the nursery or an unprompted option of a waiting list.
That evening, we emailed under the name Susan Blake about a couple of afternoons at any point for Sophie, aged three. The next day, a registration form and leaflet was sent.
On July 19, the Record asked for specific availability before filling in the registration form. Three days later, Mills apologised for a delay as she had not been in the office but said she could “accommodate any afternoon apart from a Friday”.
She then offered times when she could give Susan a tour.
Nadia said: “If four afternoons were suddenly available, why were they not offered to Aqsa Akhtar who had applied before Susan Blake?”
When contacted by the Record, the person involved emphatically denied any discrimination and said no applicant in the last year had been offered a place who hadn’t been on a waiting list for at least six months.
A spokesperson for Little Scholars Day Nursery told the Mirror: “Our nursery is extremely proud of being open and inclusive to all and any claim to the contrary is demonstrably false and an accusation that we would refute in the strongest possible terms.
“We also stand by the member of our staff, named by the media today, who has been with us since the nursery opened 14 years ago. She is professional, compassionate, incredibly hard working and a valued member of our team.
“In addition to our owners being of Asian heritage, across more than a decade we have regularly welcomed both children and staff from a range of different religious, cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds including two Muslim families currently. We have also regularly made arrangements to accommodate different lifestyles by, for example, providing a halal menu for those children who come from Muslim families.
“We note Mr Yousaf’s call for a Care Inspectorate investigation and this is something we would absolutely welcome. We have nothing to hide and look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the policies and procedures we have in place to ensure we are a nursery that is open and welcoming to all.”