Humza Yousaf and his wife Nadia El-Nakla told The Daily Record that the nursery said it had no space available for several applicants who had ethnic, Muslim-sounding names, including the couple’s daughter Amal.
Yet, when the couple launched their own probe, and called up the Dundee nursery on behalf of several children with non-ethnic names, the Dundee nursery said spaces were available.
It is understood the health secretary has since lodged a complaint with the Care Inspectorate calling for the watchdog to establish whether there had been discrimination on grounds of “either ethnicity or religion” at the Little Scholars Nursery in Broughty Ferry.
Mr Yousaf told the 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.”
After first applying for a place for their daughter Amal in September 2020, and again in May, Ms El-Nakla claimed the responses from nursery manager Michelle Mill were so “similarly abrupt” she decided to launch her own investigation.
“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,” she told the Record.
After being told there were no spaces in May, and that there was no guarantee of a space becoming available if she was put on a waiting list, Ms El-Nakla is reported to have asked her friend Julie Kelly to email the nursery about a space for her two-year-old son.
It is understood Ms Kelly was told Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were available from July, as was a nursery tour, despite Ms El-Nakla being told there was no availability “at present” less than 24 hours earlier.
In emails seen by the Record, it is understood Ms Mill proactively prompted Ms Kelly 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.
A relative of Ms El-Nakla’s, Sara Ahmad, also applied on May 12 about availability for her two-year-old child, but was allegedly told by Ms Mill on May 20 there was no availability “at the present time or for the foreseeable future”.
On the day Sara was refused, Ms El-Nakla is reported to have sent a fake email under the name Suzy Sheppard and asked for two half-days for a two-year-old.
According to the Record, the next day Ms Mill responded telling “Ms Sheppard” to fill in a form and a few days later confirmed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were available for a two-year-old.
The Record then made its own inquiries using fake names.
Using the name Aqsa Akhtar, the publication asked Ms Mill on July 7 for any afternoons free for a three-year-old girl called Amira.
It is understood on July 12, Ms Mill responded saying there was “no availability for a three-year-old” and no offer of a registration form, a tour of the nursery or an unprompted option of a waiting list.
But that same evening, the paper made an enquiry from fake name Susan Blake for a three-year-old girl Sophie.
According to emails seen by the Record, “Ms Blake” was told the nursery will “let you know of availability and arrange a suitable time for a show round for you”.
Ms El-Nakla added: “If four afternoons were suddenly available, why were they not offered to Aqsa Akhtar who had applied before Susan Blake?”
According to the Record, Ms Mills denies the discrimination claims and is alleged to have said that 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 spokesman for the owner of the nursery, Usha Fowdar, refused to comment on “each individual email application”, the publication claims, adding: “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.”