They provide post-16 education in a town scarred by race riots, serving an area ranked among the most deprived in England and Wales.
Yet two colleges in Oldham, Greater Manchester, have received glowing inspection reports from the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.
This week Oldham sixth-form college was celebrating an inspection report that used the word outstanding 30 times in describing the quality of its provision.
The inspectors rated the college outstanding in four curriculum areas and good in five, with leadership and management also rated outstanding.
The report was published last Friday, just a month after the neighbouring general further education college, The Oldham College, was praised by inspectors.
At The Oldham College, inspectors judged teaching and students'
achievements to be outstanding in two curriculum areas, good in five areas, and satisfactory in four.
Leadership and management were rated good. The college's response to social inclusion was also rated outstanding.
Nick Brown, principal of the sixth-form college, said: "Nationally Oldham is seen to have so many difficulties. Ever since the riots three years ago, the town has been getting a bad press.
"But there has been a feeling among staff and students that the college they go to is as good as any in the country. The students, like the staff, identify with the college and are very proud of it.
"We have 34 per cent of our students from an ethnic minority background, mainly Asian, but race just isn't an issue here. We have very few rules but one of them is that people are courteous and friendly to each other."
The college's inspection report was published a day after its A-level results were announced, revealing a pass rate of 98 per cent.
Mr Brown added: "The report confirms our reputation as one of the best sixth-form colleges in the country. It proves that people can work together in harmony and be incredibly successful.
"More than two-thirds of our provision was deemed to be outstanding, and this was based on results achieved before last week's best-ever A-level performance."
The town's general FE college, The Oldham College, is in a ward which is among the most deprived 1 per cent nationally. Overall Oldham is rated 38th of the 376 local authorities on an index of deprivation.
Kath Thomas, the principal, said the college was particularly pleased with being rated as outstanding for its social inclusion.
She said: "The problem for a lot of schools in Oldham is that they are either mainly white or mainly Asian, and the youngsters don't mix until they come to college.
"In the light of the issues around the Ritchie report on the social disturbances here, we have worked hard on social inclusion and are proud that inspectors see us as setting a benchmark in this area."
A third college also received an outstanding inspection report this week.
Brockenhurst college, a tertiary college which says it is both a sixth-form college and a general FE college, was judged to be outstanding in four curriculum areas and good in seven.
Mike Snell, principal since 1989, said: "This report puts us in the top 10 colleges in the country. More than 80 per cent of lessons observed were graded as outstanding or good, 20 per cent above the national average.
"We were rated good in our two previous reports. We have moved to being outstanding by focusing on our teaching and learning, by putting a huge effort into improving what is happening in the classroom."