SEVEN top-performing colleges were this week given the seal of approval by further education bosses.
It is the second round of an accreditation scheme launched by the Further Education Funding Council earlier this year.
Ministers and the FEFC are keen to highlight examples of good practice in colleges to shift the spotlight away from the recent high-profile failures.
But the scheme got off to a low-key start when its launch in May was overshadowed by the announcement of the Government's own Beacon awards for 10 colleges. Three of seven recognised this week have already won Beacon College status.
All colleges which have been inspected since September 1997 can apply for accreditation.
To gain the FEFC award colleges must meet stringent requirements including quality assurance, self-assessment, meeting performance targets and accountability.
Award winners are expected to spread good practice and receive a one-off bonus of pound;50,000 to fund work with other colleges such as seminars or visits.
They also get a "lighter touch" inspection regime and get visited only once every six years. However, the FEFC continues to monitor the colleges through the normal audit process to ensure they continue to meet the required standards.
David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, welcomed the awards, saying:
"Raising quality is a major priority and accrediting colleges rewards those who are performing well. The criteria are demanding and provide colleges with an incentive to raise standards.
"There are now 12 accredited colleges in the FE sector and we look forward to more successful applications in the future," he said.
The seven new ones are: Bishop Burton College, east Yorkshire; John Leggott Sixth Form College,Scunthorpe; South Cheshire College, Crewe; St Charles Catholic Sixth Form College, London; Stephenson College, Leicestershire; Strode College, Surrey and Trowbridge College, Wiltshire.