A college was this week awarded beacon status at the same time as its staff were staging a two-day strike over pay.
Newcastle College in Tyne and Wear was one of 12 colleges hit by strike action as Natfhe, the lecturers' union, stepped up pressure on colleges that have not implemented the national pay agreement.
While Jackie Fisher, Newcastle's principal, was in London to receive the beacon award on Tuesday, union officials claimed more than 300 of her staff were staging a walk-out.
Jon Bryan, the college's Natfhe representative, said: "The principal was in London receiving this award while the vast majority of lecturing staff who helped to earn it were out on strike.
"The work of the staff has been recognised nationally through this award.
Now is the time for the executive in the college to do the same.
"All we are asking is for a national pay scale to be implemented and for the threats to our conditions of service to be lifted."
Newcastle college was one of eight learning providers to receive a beacon status award from Kim Howells, minister for lifelong learning in Westminster on Tuesday. The award from the Department for Education and Skills and Learning and Skills Council helps high-performing colleges share good ideas with others. Last year, Newcastle was rated outstanding by inspectors.
Ms Fisher said: "The award is testimony not just to our dedication to learners but also a continued commitment by everyone at the college to strive for excellence." She said the college was looking forward to working with colleges across the UK to raise standards.
Mr Bryan, however, said that he would urge members not to cooperate with beacon work while the dispute was on, in line with an ongoing work-to-rule action.
Of the strike, Ms Fisher said: "We are very disappointed... We have done everything we can to improve pay for lecturing staff. Over the next five years we will spend an additional pound;4.4 million on pay."
On March 1, 35 colleges took part in strikes, but 23 have since either settled or suspended action while talks take place. The other 11 colleges on strike this week are Preston college, Lancashire; Tresham institute, Kettering, Northamptonshire; Bradford college, West Yorkshire; Sheffield college and Rotherham college, South Yorkshire; Harrow college, London; Hereward college, Coventry; and Fircroft college, Birmingham.