This paper considers the notion of schools in a spiral of decline, in which less popular schools within a market system lose numbers and increase their proportion of socially disadvantaged pupils over time. In an era of raw-score performance indicators such a decline could quickly become a spiral, with disadvantage leading to poorer aggregated results, leading to less popularity and so on. Using data derived all secondary schools in England from 1989 to 1999, we find little evidence for any increase in the existence of such schools. Whether we consider falling rolls, closing schools, or special measures we find only one school, among 30 LEAs considered in detail, that has both consistently falling rolls and increased social disadvantage. This one example may be due to market pressure, but we also present the suggestion that such irregular events happened prior to 1998 anyway. It is the case that the greatest increase in relative disadvantage in this school was from 1998 to 1999 (i.e. ten years after the Education Reform Act 1988), while its level of disadvantage as late as 1992 was only marginally higher than in 1989. Whatever potential arguments there are against the notion of allowing families to state their preferences for schools, the evidence here suggests that an increased danger of sending schools into spirals of decline is not one of them.