“Nadia and I really want an explanation"
Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has demanded an investigation into a nursery over alleged discrimination against his two-year-old daughter.
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.
However, when they launched their own probe and called up the Dundee nursery on behalf of several children with non-ethnic names, the nursery said there were spaces.
Humza Yousaf has now lodged a complaint with the Care Inspectorate, calling for an explanation over the differing responses from the Little Scholars Nursery in Broughty Ferry.
He requested the watchdog to establish whether there had been discrimination on grounds of “either ethnicity or religion”.
Mr Yousaf also passed on several emails between the applicants and the nursery’s manager Michelle Mill.
He told The Daily Record: “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.”
Ms El-Nakla first applied for a place for Amal in September 2020 and again in May 2021.
The responses from Ms Mill were allegedly “similarly abrupt”, prompting Ms El-Nakla to explore the matter further.
She said: “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.”
Ms El-Nakla then asked her friend Julie Kelly to email the nursery about a space for her two-year-old son.
Despite Ms El-Nakla being told there was no availability “at present”, just 24 hours later, Ms Kelly was told that Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were available from July, as was a nursery tour.
Ms El-Nakla 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?”
It was reported that on May 17, 2021, Ms Mill actively prompted Ms Kelly to say if she did not want the space “due to high demand” they would “go back on offer”.
Ms Kelly declined the spaces on May 18.
Sara Ahmad, a relative of Ms El-Nakla, applied on May 12 about availability. But on May 20, she was allegedly told there was no availability “at the present time or for the foreseeable future”.
On the same day, Ms El-Nakla reportedly sent a fake email under the name Suzy Sheppard.
The next day, Ms Mill told ‘Ms Sheppard’ to fill in a form. A few days later, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were available.
The Record then made its own inquiries using bogus names.
Under the name Aqsa Akhtar, Ms Mill was asked on July 7 for any afternoons free for a three-year-old girl named Amira.
On July 12, Ms Mill said there was “no availability for a three-year-old” and there was no offer of a registration form, a tour of the nursery or an unprompted option of a waiting list.
A fake enquiry on behalf of a three-year-old girl named Sophie was made.
Ms Mill responded, saying the nursery would “let you know of availability and arrange a suitable time for a show round for you”.
Ms El-Nakla said: “If four afternoons were suddenly available, why were they not offered to Aqsa Akhtar who had applied before Susan Blake?”
Ms Mills denied the discrimination allegations and said that no applicant in the last year had been offered a place who had not been on a waiting list for at least six months.
Usha Fowdar, a spokesperson for the nursery owner, said:
“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.
“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.”