strategy makes a powerful argument for collecting data and focusing policy on four phases of life after compulsory education: up to 25, where transitions to the labour market are increasingly complex; 25-50, the overcrowded years of work, family and social demands; 50-75, where the bulk of responsibility for maintaining civil society lies; and 75-plus, when life becomes increasingly home-based and age-related infirmities are more prevalent.
Each phase has its own curriculum demands and challenges. It's not surprising that the priority given to vocational study among younger groups is replaced by a demand for philosophy, history, languages and the arts among older learners seeking to make sense of the wider meaning of life.
There have been periods of publicly funded support for older learning - notably by the Inner London Education Authority where, until its closure in 1990, more than 35 per cent of pensioners took classes each year from across the social range. The ILEA found that people needed active encouragement to take their first class but no persuasion at all to come back.
Another highlight came when the Learning and Skills Council was established in the early 2000s and pensioners flocked to three-hour taster programmes. They made good use, too, of the much-vilified Individual Learning Accounts. These last two measures were killed off by their own success, and we have returned to a world where the failure to supply opportunities suppresses demand (and the NHS pays the price).
Thank goodness, then, for the University of the Third Age (U3A) and other voluntary initiatives. U3A is an enormously successful self-help movement, geared towards those who are at the end of their paid working lives. But it is inevitably more successful at engaging the educationally confident and those who had extended opportunities for education early in life. The movement, too, focuses on the earlier years of retirement.
We must give all adults the chance to learn throughout their lives, including those whose schooldays evoke bad memories. Their needs require modest public investment. And the chancellor George Osborne will save more than he spends - every pound on older people's learning will save two or three on health costs. You know it makes sense.
Alan Tuckett is professor of education at the University of Wolverhampton and president of the International Council for Adult Education