The Command and Staff College was established at Whenuapai, near Auckland, in 1950, as a school for junior officers of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). The first course, since named the Junior Staff Course, was for officers of the rank of Flight Lieutenant (seven - eight years of commissioned service). Studies included military law, drill, organisation, staff duties and administration.
The last Junior Staff Course for junior officers of the RNZAF was run in March 2008. In 2009, it was renamed the Joint Junior Staff Course and it embraced officers of Captain equivalent level from all three services, as well as officers from overseas. In 2013, this course was renamed again as the Intermediate Junior Staff Course (Joint), in order to reflect more accurately the rank of officers in attendance.
In 1959, the College extended its training by introducing a six-month Staff Course for Squadron Leaders or their equivalent (approximately 15 years commissioned service).
In 2011, the Staff Course was renamed the Joint Command and Staff Course, and in 2013 it was renamed again to the Advanced Command and Staff Course (Joint) and extended to cover 37 weeks. It is now well established as a course for officers of Major equivalent rank or above from all three services - the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the New Zealand Army. College intakes have subsequently been expanded to include course members from related government agencies, such as the New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs. In 1984, the College began training students from the Asia-Pacific region under the Mutual Assistance Programme.
In 2008, the Joint Warrant Officer Advanced Course was introduced, aimed at senior Warrant Officers from all three services.
Over the years, the syllabus has changed considerably, reflecting an international trend towards a broader professional outlook. University accreditation was introduced in the 1990s to ensure high standards of academic rigour. Officers today are encouraged to widen their outlook from specialist areas of technical expertise, towards a more balanced coverage of wider strategic issues, requiring a level of analytical and conceptual thinking. Whilst communication and staff skills remain important, greater attention is given to strategic issues and operational studies. The service orientation has become 'joint', reflecting changes in the New Zealand Defence Force and trends overseas.
Each course employs a combination of visiting lecturers, tutored discussion groups, visits, individual study, and formal written or oral presentations to impart the skills and attitudes needed for senior command and staff appointments.
To date, the Command and Staff College has graduated over 3,000 officers, including more than 100 officers from the Asia-Pacific region, as well as a number of non-military personnel. International officers have attended from Australia, Brunei, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tonga, the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America. Many graduates subsequently attain senior national appointments, or, on retirement from the armed services, apply the experiences gained at the College to successfully pursue diplomatic, political, commercial or academic careers.
In 2004, the College moved to its present location in Trentham Military Camp, near Wellington.