Customs contraband

Customs Contraband is an interactive session where pupils are allowed to investigate objects that have been seized by the UK Border Force at airports and docks around the UK.  The pupils are introduced to the concepts of import and export and the lengths some people and organisations will go to in order to smuggle in prohibited items. Available Monday to Friday, 10am - 5pm.

Workshop details

The pupils are introduced to the concepts of import and export and the lengths some people and organisations will go to in order to smuggle in prohibited items. We also look at modern day slavery which is common in the production of fake goods. Pupils will hear the stories behind the smuggling of contraband and the illegal poaching of endangered species, and are encouraged to question, discuss and explore the ethical issues raised by such activities.

We have examples of concealments, drugs paraphernalia, fakes and endangered species. Young people seem particularly interested in the animal collection, including ivory tusks, stuffed crocodiles and snakeskin shoes.  

The museum staff who deliver the session have been trained directly by the UK Border Force about detection work. We have worked with the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) experts at Heathrow and the sniffer dog team at Manchester. We have had access to restricted areas where all seized goods are initially stored, we obtain the objects in the handling collection directly from UK Border Force.

Our unique relationship with the UK Border Force means that we are always up to date with the latest seizures, discoveries and smuggling trends.

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 - English Spoken Language

Pupils should be taught to:

  • listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers.
  • ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge.
  • articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions.
  • maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments.
  • use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas.
  • participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates.

Key Stage 3 and 4 - Citizenship

Pupils should be taught:

  • To develop a sound knowledge and understanding of the role of law and the justice system in our society and how laws are shaped and enforced.
  • The nature of rules and laws and the justice system, including the role of the police and the operation of courts and tribunals.
  • The roles played by public institutions and voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities.
  • Human rights and international law.
  • The legal system in the UK, different sources of law and how the law helps society deal with complex problems.

Customs Contraband links to PSHE for all key stages with its focus on drug smuggling, making healthy choices, keeping safe, being a responsible citizen and providing an opportunity for informed debate. Following the changes to the curriculum the teaching of PSHE is still encouraged but with no statutory guidelines.

Key Stage 3 and 4 - Fundamental British Values

  • Rule of law: Learn to clarify the rules and consequences of making positive or negative choices relating to drugs, endangered animals and other contraband, and understand our shared and individual responsibilities. Understand how laws can change over time and vary in different countries.
  • Democracy: Students share a leading role in discussion, debate and voting.
  • Individual liberty: Students are encouraged to voice opinions appropriately and listen to others.
  • Mutual respect and tolerance: Students are encouraged to respect opinions and cultural differences. Understand that everyone in society deserves the opportunity to make safe, healthy and positive choices.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Pupils will:

  • Gain awareness of the laws regarding the illegal import of banned goods including; drugs, weapons, fakes, endangered species, people.
  • Understand that smuggling can be intentional, personal or commercial, or sometimes accidental.
  • Learn about habitat destruction and hunting as a threat to endangered animals & plants.
  • Learn about the consequences of smuggling on the perpetrator.  


Pupils will:

  • Improve their speaking and listening skills in a group discussion context.
  • Learn to question and discuss issues relating to smuggled goods that may affect their own lives, or those of the wider society.
  • Develop their confidence and ability to make safer choices (fakes, drugs).
  • Give reasoned answers backed up by evidence.


Pupils will:

  • Be introduced to the role the UK Border Force and how it protects our society.
  • Be introduced to the work of the education team and the value of a visit to a museum.
  • Learn about the techniques used by smugglers to get smuggled goods into the country and the ways the UKBF try to prevent this.


Pupils will

  • See the museum as a fun and interesting way to learn more about the past and the present.
  • Be inspired to have the confidence to make the right choices for themselves backed up by factual information and expertise.
  • Explore the ethics of the use of animal products, both endangered and non-endangered.