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Scottish Minister Humza Yousaf accuses nursery of racial discrimination

Scottish Minister Humza Yousaf accuses nursery of racial discrimination

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday August 25 2021

The Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, has launched legal proceedings against a pre-school nursery in Dundee over suspicions of racial discrimination. He alleges the nursery has breached the Equality Act 2010, stating that they refused three children with Muslim-sounding names, yet those with non-Muslim names were given immediate offers, with the option to choose from multiple hours.

Humza took to Twitter to explain that he had applied for his daughter Amal, age 2, but was told by the nursery there were no vacant spaces. His wife, Nadia El-Nakla decided to enquire into the matter by applying under non-minority ethnic names and, to the couple’s surprise, the nursery responded saying spaces were available. The pair then approached the Daily Record for an official investigation: two profiles were created under different names, with all other details (age, requirements, etc.) remaining the same. The application named under ‘Aqsa Akthar’ was rejected while ‘Susan Blake’ was offered a choice of four afternoons; similar outcomes were received on three separate occasions. At this stage, Humza sought an explanation into what looks to be a sharp demonstration of racial discrimination within educational establishments.

This issue highlights the need to challenge institutional discrimination in the British educational systems, the result of which often leads to diminished effort or performance within education or the labour market, perpetuating long-term inequality. While the Equality Act 2010 states that public services such as schools have a statutory duty not to discriminate against those with one or more protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation), the culture on ground is often shown to be otherwise.

Racial discrimination in UK education systems is a stubborn reality for many. A poll published by ITV showed that 62% of Black Britons thought that the education system had a culture of racism. Within schools, certain policies and practices contribute to the systematic disadvantage of members of certain groups.  The Guardian has found that exclusion rates amongst Black Caribbean students in English schools are up to six times higher than those of their White peers. While the disparity differs regionally, a pattern of exclusion amongst BME students is consistent across the country. Students face being racially stereotyped by their educators, with one pupil explaining that cultural gestures such as fist-bumping were banned under the reasoning that it supposedly related to gang culture. A college staff member told the BBC that schools are loaded with cultural norms that can be excluding to minority groups and favourable to White British people. Due these ‘neutral’ policies, BME children may have negative experiences in schools, which can lead to poor attainment levels but also a possible withdrawal from engagement with education as a whole.

Inevitably, the damaging long-term outcome of many of the structural and systemic barriers in schools is the diminishing confidence and self-esteem of BME individuals. Through their experiences in schools, students can become consciously aware of their position in society due to their race or ethnicity, as they are routinely entered into lower ability sets and exam tiers. Several studies have concluded that ‘long exposure to negative stereotypes about members of prejudiced groups often internalise the stereotypes, and the resulting sense of inadequacy becomes part of their personality’. The consequences often persist in later life, in the form of imposter syndrome or exclusion from career advancement opportunities. In the workplace, (59%) of BME employees feel that colleagues have made assumptions about their ability, character or behaviour based on their ethnicity, thus marking as barriers to achievement in their professional settings. As a result, individuals and communities are often being held responsible for lower levels of achievements, preventing examination of structural inequalities.

Another case that highlights inequalities in the British educational systems is that of the 2020 exam grading fiasco. The grading system, based on an algorithm used following the cancellation of A-level examinations due to COVID-19, resulted in the downgrading of marks that were notably more concentrated in deprived areas. This and the case of Humza Yousaf demonstrate persistent inequalities in the UK educational systems, largely along racial and economic lines. Far more needs to be done to tackle systematic discrimination at all levels, to break the cycle of inequality that impacts so disproportionately on minority communities in Britain. MEND recognises the issue and recommends both the UK and Scottish Governments should:

  • Commit to tackling religious, racial and gendered discrimination in the workplace through targeted interventions at all stages of recruitment, retention and promotion, including through the use of name-blind applications and targeted interventions aimed at improving access to employment for BME women specifically.
  • Work to increase diversity within teaching, particularly at senior leadership levels, and through mentorship programmes for junior BAME staff, to prevent the proliferation of racial inequality within educational structures.  


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